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Review: These releases know their audience

This week’s releases include a different approach to the superhero narrative; & an animated series made for fans

A scene from 'Mean Girls'
A scene from 'Mean Girls' courtesy of Paramount Pictures
A scene from 'Mean Girls' courtesy of Paramount Pictures

This week’s releases include a different approach to the superhero narrative; an animated series made for fans; a creepy family reunion; a movie that left its mark and its musical adaptation; and an unusual gunfight.

'The Abandoned' on Blu-ray
Unearthed Films

The Abandoned [Limited Edition] (Blu-ray)
In 1966, somewhere in Russia, a wounded woman drives a truck to an isolated farm with two babies. Forty years later, film producer Marie Jones (Anastasia Hille) leaves her daughter in California and travels back to her homeland in Russia’s wilderness. Marie is one of the children and had received a phone call from the notary public Andrei Misharin (Valentin Ganev), who told her where the farm of her family is located. Marie arrives at the abandoned house where she meets a mysterious stranger (Karel Roden) and weird things start to happen.

While the cabin in the woods is a classic horror trope, this film goes even further to create a ghost story that will grip audience’s attentions. Some of the details are a little more difficult to believe as they require extensive supernatural prowess, but the core elements combine to disturb viewers as Marie cannot escape this nightmare from her past. There are angry spirits and doppelgangers, all propelled by an intense hatred and sense of fate that may be unavoidable. Notably, the protagonist is somewhat smarter than the average genre character, doing the things that viewers often find themselves yelling at the screen. But this narrative is not letting anyone go that easily, forcing a fight to the very end.

Special features include: alternate sequences; making-of featurette; “In the Den of The Abandoned”; “Nacho Cerda: Facing Death”; “The Little Secrets of Nacho Cerda”; “When Buck Meets Cerda: A Dialogue Between Friends”; and interviews with Nacho Cerda, Richard Stanley and Karim Hussain. (Unearthed Films)

'Madame Web' on 4K
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Madame Web (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson) is a paramedic in Manhattan who may have clairvoyant abilities. Forced to confront revelations about her past, she forges a relationship with three young women (Celeste O’Connor, Isabela Merced and Sydney Sweeney) destined for powerful futures — if they can all survive a deadly present.

In a cinema landscape full of “superhero movies,” this film set out to be a thriller that included some supernatural abilities. In essence, it’s about young women desperately trying to escape a dangerous man who is stalking them. Cassandra is naturally smart and inventive, which is an asset in her career and an advantage when attempting to evade someone with superpowers and a wealth of resources. There doesn’t seem to be anything special about the three teenage girls as they flirt with boys and rebel in spite of their circumstances, yet their desire to survive eventually bonds them, causing them to rally around Cassandra. Thus, it’s unfortunate this picture has such noticeable shortcomings, from the action and visual effects, to the shoehorned origin story that could’ve used more attention and finesse.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “Oracle of the Page”; “Fight Like a Spider”; “Future Vision”; “Casting the Web”; Easter eggs; and gag reel. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

'Mean Girls' (2004) on 4K
Paramount Home Entertainment

Mean Girls (2004) (Blu-ray)
After living in Africa with her zoologist parents, Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) must brave the wilds of high school, where she is taken under the wing of the popular girls, The Plastics, led by the cool and cruel Regina George (Rachel McAdams).

This film really has some legs — figuratively and literally. The girls are expectedly beautiful with their salon perfect hair, fashionable wardrobes and handsome boyfriends. But in a crowd of their classmates, they definitely stick out and not always in a positive way. In addition, the film sparked a massive following, created catchphrases, generated several memorable moments, and inspired a Broadway musical. Cady is already an anomaly as she’s completely unaware of high school cliques and hierarchies, and ripe to be influenced by the power of popularity… though her initial efforts to sabotage The Plastics are pretty amusing. Tim Meadows plays the confused and ill-prepared principal, while the film’s writer, Tina Fey, is the cynical teacher who probably grew up with her own group of Plastics and still can’t seem to escape them as an adult.

Special features include: commentary by director Mark Waters, screenwriter and actress Tina Fey, and producer Lorne Michaels; deleted scenes with optional commentary; “Mean Girls: Class of ’04” “Only the Strong Survive”; “The Politics of Girl World”; “Plastic Fashion”; “Word Vomit (blooper reel); interstitials; and theatrical trailer.” (Paramount Home Entertainment)

'Mean Girls' (2024) on 4K
Paramount Home Entertainment

Mean Girls (2024) (Blu-ray)
New student Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) is welcomed into the top of the social food chain by the elite group of popular girls called “The Plastics,” ruled by the conniving queen bee, Regina George (Reneé Rapp). However, when Cady makes the major misstep of falling for Regina’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney), she finds herself in Regina’s crosshairs. As Cady sets to take down the group’s apex predator with the help of her outcast friends Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey), she must learn how to stay true to herself while navigating the most cutthroat jungle of all: high school.

The story is undoubtedly familiar as it was not altered from the 2004 film. In fact, this picture shares a lot of the same dialogue and major plot points with the original movie, while also changing other elements of the narrative for the better, emphasizing the role social media and cellphones now play in any teen experience. But it’s actually “Mean Girls: The Musical,” incorporating many of the songs from the film’s Broadway adaptation (but only adding 15 minutes to the original runtime). The picture opens with “A Cautionary Tale,” setting the scene for the movie much like a Greek chorus. Then songs like “Meet the Plastics,” “Apex Predator” and “Revenge Party” stand out with large-scale choreography and memorable tunes, while “Sexy” isn’t quite as impactful. Most of the cast of young people are on point with Spivey standing above the rest and Cravalho’s jaded sarcasm landing perfectly. Conversely, Avantika’s Karen is a huge miss as she’s even more sexualized and dumber than before, which grows increasingly off-putting.

Special features include: extended scenes; “A New Age of Mean Girl”; “Song and Dance”; “The New Plastics”; “Not My Fault”; gag reel; and Mean Girls sing-along with select songs. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

'Mean Guns' on Blu-ray
MVD Rewind Collection

Mean Guns [Special Edition] (Blu-ray)
The world’s most dangerous criminals are summoned to a new prison on the eve before its grand opening by Moon (Ice-T), the ruthless leader of the world’s most powerful crime syndicate. Chaos ensues when weapons and ammunition are passed around and the group, including Lou (Christopher Lambert), begin their fight to survive. The last three people standing by midnight have been promised $10 million in cash by Moon, who watches from his surveillance camera as gunfire and bodies fly. Rivalries develop between friends and the lines of loyalty are crossed as each criminal attempts to outwit, outrun and outlive the other in this game of elimination.

This movie is essentially a shoot’em up that unfolds in a maze with a bit of a Hunger Games element as all the weapons are distributed at the centre of the makeshift arena, giving participants the option to run or fight. Once separated, the camera checks in with each of the smaller groups and allows audiences to play their own game of deciding who will make it to the end. There are some oddities in the narrative, such as a young boy pushed to the periphery of the carnage, illogical betrayal and a final chance at some bloody redemption. In the end, it’s a pretty standard violence for violence’s sake 1990’s movie with a couple of recognizable actors attached.

Special features include: commentary by director Albert Pyun; introduction by Albert Pyun; interviews with Gary Schmoeller, Paul Rosenblum and Anthony Riparelli; and trailers. (MVD Rewind Collection)

'Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 4 on Blu-ray
Paramount Home Entertainment

Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 4 (Blu-ray)
An unknown force is destroying starships and threatening galactic peace. Luckily, the crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos isn’t important enough for stuff like that! Instead, Ensigns Mariner (Tawny Newsome), Boimler (Jack Quaid), Tendi (Noël Wells) and Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), and Provisional Ensign T’Lyn (Gabrielle Ruiz) are keeping up with their Starfleet duties, avoiding malevolent computers and getting stuck in a couple of caves — all while encountering new and classic aliens along the way.

This animated series continues to capture all the things fans love about the Star Trek universe, from their encounters with aliens to engaging character development to life-and-death situations that require trust and ingenuity. Mariner really comes into her own this season, exploring her self-destructive behaviour and embracing her natural leadership qualities. Her ultimate test comes at the end of the season when she must make a crucial decision. Meanwhile, Boimler learns that he can’t control every situation, and Tendi and Rutherford learn more about their comfortability with their relationship. This season also introduces one of the cutest yet scariest little monsters in an episode that calls for some mandatory hide and seek.

Special features include: commentary on select episodes; “Lower Decktionary: Setting Up Season 4”; and “Old Friends.” (Paramount 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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