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Review: This week’s new releases accesses the library for best selections (Includes first-hand account)

American Gothic: Season One (DVD)

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Paramount Home Media Distribution

A prominent Boston family is reeling in the wake of the chilling discovery that someone in their midst is linked to an infamous string of murders. As shocking secrets from the past and present are revealed, their mounting suspicion and paranoia that one of them is a killer threatens to tear the family apart.

It’s rare to see an entire family run so deeply with evil and vice, yet this one takes the cake. So many of the skeletons in their closets have to do with murder, while others hide drugs, betrayal and sexual deviance. The opening episodes are a glimpse into their various issues and deceptions as they’re united by their father’s hospitalization. However, the same incident leads to a number of revelations, none of which ever seem to be the whole truth. Their attempts to deal with the youngest member exhibiting violent tendencies is definitely one of the most interesting aspects of the show. Unfortunately the series was not renewed for a second season, although creators do a good job in wrapping up the narrative in the last episode.

Special feature include: extended and deleted scenes; “First Look”; “At Comic-Con”; and gag reel. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Ben-Hur (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)

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Paramount Home Media Distribution

Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), an officer in the Roman army. Stripped of his title, separated from his family and the woman he loves (Nazanin Boniadi), Judah is forced into slavery. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption.

Perhaps it’s because this version is significantly shorter, but this movie feels very superficial. It skips over the many years of Judah’s slavery, devotion to God, who he trusts in to provide is vengeance rather than enacting it himself, and training as a charioteer. His time in the galleys and learning to drive in the Romans’ races are shown via fast forwards and montages. Huston and Kebbell are adequate in the roles previously made famous by Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd, but the contemporary remake is all gloss with little substance. Audiences will not feel absorbed by their rivalry or invested in Judah’s cause because the movie lacks the ability to grab their attentions — it’s mostly just a period action movie.

Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; “Ben-Hur: The Legacy”; “The Epic Cast”; “A Tale for Our Times”; “The Chariot Race”; and music videos. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Black Christmas Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)

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Scream Factory

The college town of Bedford is receiving an unwelcome guest this Christmas. As the residents of sorority house Pi Kappa Sig prepare for the festive season, a demonic stranger begins to stalk the house. A series of grisly obscene phone-calls start to plague the residents of the sorority and soon they will each meet their fate at the hands of the psychotic intruder. As the police try to trace the calls, they discover that nothing is as it seems.

This classic Canadian horror movie was a precursor to the modern day slasher genre and the inspiration for holiday-themed murder sprees, including John Carpenter‘s Halloween. Director Bob Clark carefully constructed a frightening picture, combining every element from the lighting to first-person camera point-of-view to sound effects to the creepy voice on the telephone to create an experience audiences would remember and, as time has shown, return to regularly. There’s a little bit of comedy sprinkled throughout to occasionally lighten the mood, but it’s definitely aiming to scare without grossing people out as most of the kills are performed off-screen and left to the viewers’ imaginations. This high-def release also features insightful new interviews with actors Art Hindle and Lynne Griffin, as well as footage from a recent comic con reunion.

Special features include: commentary by director Bob Clark; commentary with actors John Saxon and Keir Dullea; commentary with Billy (actor Nick Mancuso); audio interview with director Bob Clark; “Film and Furs — Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle”; “Victims And Virgins — Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin”; “Black Christmas Legacy”; 40th anniversary panel at FanExpo 2014 featuring John Saxon, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin and Nick Mancuso; “On Screen!: Black Christmas”; “12 Days Of Black Christmas”; “Black Christmas Revisited”; archival interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle, Margot Kidder, Bob Clark, and John Saxon; midnight screening Q&A With Bob Clark, John Saxon and Carl Zittrer; two scenes with a new vocal soundtrack; original theatrical trailers (English And French); original TV and radio spots; alternative title sequences; and still gallery. (Scream Factory)

Borderless (DVD)

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Olive Films

The child of the story, a young boy, lives alone on an abandoned ship harbored along the stretch of an unnamed war-torn border. The boy’s solitary existence is torn apart when a young refugee appears in search of shelter, carrying an infant.

There is almost no dialogue in this film until the latter half and even then words are spoken sparingly. It opens showing the boy’s routine and his methods of survival, including fishing and trading. He appears to have a pretty good setup… until the other child arrives. After several confrontations, they settle on dividing and sharing the ship that is regularly rocked by nearby explosions. The introduction of a third and then fourth person alter the dynamics of their shaky arrangement, gradually necessitating greater trust and cooperation. This is quite a powerful movie in which the language barriers between all the characters and the anonymity of the location make it fascinating, while also demonstrating the inescapable loneliness and indiscriminate pain caused by war.

There are no special features. (Olive Films)

Brazil (Blu-ray)

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Olive Films

Set in South America, the film revolves around a fish-out-of-water authoress (Virginia Bruce) struck by Cupid’s arrow, dual identities (Tito Guízar) and, of course, Veloz and Yolanda, the King and Queen of the tango who perform a show-stopping number set to the film’s title tune.

This is a pretty common plot for romantic comedies in which someone pursues someone else with the intention of getting revenge only to discover they’ve actually fallen in love just as a third party reveals the initial plot, breaking everyone’s hearts. The author can be considered somewhat bold travelling to South America after apparently writing an unflattering portrayal of Latin men in one of her books. Thus when the handsome leading man learns of her transgression, he determines to charm her and leave her as an act of payback. As he woos her, they travel around the country, go to dance clubs and have a generally amusing time often set to music. It’s a wholly trivial narrative, but has all the charms of a ‘40s romantic comedy.

There are no special features. (Olive Films)

Brother Nature (DVD)

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Paramount Home Media Distribution

Roger (Taran Killam), a straight-laced politician, has big plans to propose to his dream girl (Gillian Jacobs) at her family’s lake house. But everything goes awry when he meets his potential brother-in-law Todd (Bobby Moynihan): a full-time camp counselor with a heart of gold and a wild sense of fun, pining to be Roger’s best friend, and ultimately catapulting him into a series of unfortunate events. As Roger tries to take a stand amidst outrageous fishing excursions, propulsive water jetpacks and American history-themed musicals, he realizes that being a part of a new family may be more difficult than he’d thought.

This is a goofy slapstick comedy in which Todd is constantly screwing up Roger’s plans and gradually life in general. They are complete opposites, where Roger is straight-laced and organized, and Todd is a free-spirit who acts on instinct that is generally wrong. Yet he’s the loveable screw-up everyone always forgives because he never intentionally causes harm. Meanwhile, Roger spoils several of his own plots, which only leads to further frustration. Other than devising their own narrative-appropriate gags, the film follows the standard formula for this movie right down to the predictable ending… but getting there is relatively entertaining.

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

Call of Heroes (Blu-ray)

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Well Go USA

Cao (Louis Koo) is the spoiled son of a powerful General who has grown into a vicious and depraved warlord. Although Cao is accused of triple murder, his father will destroy the town if his son is convicted and sentenced to death. But injustice cannot go unanswered, and the villagers prepare for the repercussions of punishing a guilty man.

Although the story seems rather cut-and-dry, it turns out to have many layers to discover as the narrative progresses. In the context of the main plot, the story begins rather banally: a teacher and her pupils traveling to a nearby town encounter a man the children refer to as “The Monkey King” who stops a robbery. The same town is later attacked by Cao, who murders several innocent people and is held accountable by the town’s guardians who are essentially the local police force. However the residents fear reprisal from Cao’s powerful father, which leads to a disagreement regarding his sentencing. There are also other betrayals and lost connections that reveal themselves throughout the narrative. The combination of ethics and fight choreography (by icon Sammo Hung) make this a compelling period picture with striking consequences.

Special features include: making-of featurettes; and trailer. (Well Go USA)

Cheers for Miss Bishop (Blu-ray)

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Olive Films

The story of kindly Midwestern school teacher Ella Bishop (Martha Scott) is told through flashbacks as Ella recalls her early student years through her retirement and a life still unfulfilled. Throughout her life she’s supported by Sam Peters (William Gargan), friend and confidant, who is also secretly in love with Ella, though it is clearly a case of unrequited love.

In spite of being about the life of one woman, it is somewhat structured over three generations. In the first, Ella is a young woman who loves life and is excited to be married… but her plans are spoiled by a jealous companion. Next the story jumps to when her adopted daughter is the same age, fulfilling the dreams she never realized… and although Ella loves her dearly, she’s never overcome the heartache of her youth. Then jump ahead to her grown granddaughter who has the world at her feet and plans to see as much of it as possible… while Ella lives practically and is ready to resign from teaching. The retirement party highlights the many successes of her career, but the underlying sentiment is that she was never really happy because she never married the love of her life — an archaic notion that wouldn’t pass nowadays but is told quite well in this movie.

There are no special features. (Olive Films)

Counter Clockwise (Blu-ray)

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Artsploitation Films

A befuddled scientist stumbles into inventing a time machine and recklessly zaps himself six months into the future. But in that future, he is a wanted man and accused murderer. He tries to return to the point right before everything went wrong.

Time travel movies can be fascinating works of science fiction, but also very tricky to get right. The consistency paradox often generates issues for creators as they work within loops that must continue to make sense in the context of causality. This film begins with a relatively simple concept that becomes increasingly convoluted with every attempt to fix the future and every additional version of himself introduced into the narrative. By the end, the evolution of the overall story is clear but the minutia of the effects of his time travelling would require a lot more examination as there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. Nonetheless, even though the characters are not especially interesting, it’s a fair low budget rendering of this classic subgenre.

Special features include: commentary by director George Moise; commentary by director George Moise and editor Walter Moise; commentary by director George Moise and co-writer Michael Kopelow; deleted scenes with commentary; and making-of featurette. (Artsploitation Films)

Dreamscape Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)

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Scream Factory

Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid) is a man with an incredible psychic gift, but for years has used it solely for personal gain. Reuniting with his old mentor, Dr. Novotny (Max von Sydow), Gardner joins a government project in which he learns to channel his abilities in order to enter peoples’ subconscious through their dreams. As his powers grow, the young psychic soon finds himself in a living nightmare of conspiracy and murder, and the only way out is to go back in.

Before Inception and A Nightmare on Elm Street, this science fiction movie was inserting people into other people’s dreams and letting them alter aspects of it to fit their needs. Rather than rely on machines, drugs or evil powers, Alex relies on the same ability he uses to place winning bets at the track to psychically connect with the sleeper. However, while he sees it as a unique way to help people, the military, led by Christopher Plummer, is eyeing the project as a potentially untraceable weapon. It’s surprising to see two such accomplished actors like von Sydow and Plummer in this type of film, but watching them on screen is spellbinding and speaks to the quality of the script.

Special features include: commentary by Bruce Cohn Curtis, David Loughery and Craig Reardon; “The Actor’s Journey,” interview with Dennis Quaid; “Dreamscapes and Dreammakers”; “Nightmares and Dreamsnakes”; in-depth conversation between Bruce Cohn Curtis and co-writer/producer Chuck Russell; snake man test footage; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)

Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story (DVD)

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Icarus Films

Filmmakers and food lovers Jen and Grant dive into the issue of waste from farm, through retail, all the way to the back of their own fridge. After catching a glimpse of the billions of dollars of good food that is tossed each year in North America, they pledge to quit grocery shopping and survive only on foods that would otherwise be thrown away.

For six months they stop grocery shopping and pledge to only consume food that would have otherwise been discarded. They are never hungry during this period and are often overwhelmed by the amount of food they’ve rescued and that which is still sent to the landfill. Without being accusatory, this documentary subtly turns the tables on its audience. It confronts them with the obscene amounts of food being allowed to expire in our homes and the exponential amount that never even makes it there. It forces them to question their buying habits. It explains the evolution and consequences of squandering as it looks at our systemic obsession with expiry dates, perfect produce and portion sizes. Combining these elements, the film reveals the core of a seemingly insignificant issue that is having devastating effects around the world.

Special features include: 50-minute educational version. (Icarus Films)

Legend of Korra: The Complete Series Limited Edition (Blu-ray)

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Paramount Home Media Distribution

From the battle to save Republic City to opening the portal between spirit and man, and restoring peace to the Earth Kingdom, the spirit of the Avatar lives on in this series.

From a young age and long before she receives any formal training, Korra exhibits signs of being the Avatar reborn. With training, she becomes an unstoppable force who at 16 must shoulder the responsibility of her birthright. In just book one, she leaves her home, falls in love, is imprisoned, leads a rebellion and faces an identity crisis. Even though it’s a continuation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, it’s not directly reliant on viewers having seen the original show — though fans will be able to connect certain elements to its predecessor. Each 30-minute episode is gripping and visually attractive, making it easy to get lost in a marathon of needing to see what happens next. And although the narrative of super-humans vs. humans is a common one, this series has a fascinating take on it.

Special features include: commentaries; and “The Art of the Animated Series” book. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Star Paws (DVD)

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Arrow Video

An evil kitten known as Adventure Cat needs to get his paws on an ancient bone with magical power in order to take over the universe. It’s up to an elite group of space dogs, headed by the intrepid General Ruff (William McNamara), to make sure Adventure Cat doesn’t succeed. As the race to find the mythical bone heats up, the space dogs build a time machine to travel back to the time of the dinosaurs and beat Adventure Cat to the bone.

All signs point to this movie being intended for a very young audience. From the goofy voices to the silly storyline, most people over the age of six can only be amused by cute, costumed animals for so long. Of course there are also the lines so absurd you can’t help but laugh. It’s interesting to note that all of the cats are created via CGI while the dogs are live action, which also makes the viewing experience somewhat disjointed. Examining such a ridiculous story for plot holes is rather pointless, but dogs are clearly the favourites to succeed as the felines are depicted as sinister creatures that lie and steal to fulfill their goals.

There are no special features. (Arrow Video)

Star Trek: The Original Series – The Roddenberry Vault (Blu-ray)

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Paramount Home Media Distribution

During the production of Star Trek: The Original Series, bits and pieces of footage were left on the cutting room floor, then stored away in film cans for decades by the Gene Roddenberry Estate. Now, in celebration of the show’s 50th anniversary, The Roddenberry Vault has finally been opened. Along with 12 of their favourite episodes, fans can see and own behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the series, as well as alternate takes, deleted scenes, omitted dialogue, outtakes, and original visual FX elements.

The anniversary releases for this TV show keep getting better. One had to wonder how they’d top this year’s ultimate collector’s boxset and now they’ve done so by releasing extended versions of some of the most memorable episodes, which can be watched with original or enhanced special effects. From their trip to the past to save Bones that results in Kirk’s doomed love affair to the captain’s fight to the death against a Gorn to Spock’s carefree and happy life on the planet of eternal youth to, of course, an all-time favourite, the tribble episode. These great episodes are enhanced by the bonus features found on all three discs, which talk about the production of each episode and some of the specific scenes reinserted; here you find out how Leonard Nimoy felt about Spock having feelings or the first introduction of Khan.

Special features include: “Inside the Roddenberry Vault”; “Star Trek: Revisiting a Classic”; “Strange New Worlds: Visualizing the Fantastic”; “Swept Up: Snippets from the Cutting Room Floor”; and isolated music tracks from 11 of the episodes. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Streets of Compton (DVD)

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Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Compton is well known as the birthplace of legends including NWA, Venus and Serena Williams, and Kendrick Lamar. But Compton is a place most people have never seen and the truth isn’t always pretty. This documentary tells the story of how a city overrun by gangs and violence became a cultural powerhouse. Hip-hop superstar The Game takes us on a dark yet redemptive journey into the heart of his city.

Anyone who’s seen Straight Outta Compton knows there’s more to the story and the neighbourhood than what’s portrayed by NWA in their biopic. This documentary tries to take audiences deeper into the history of the area, exploring the rise of the Crips and Bloods, the effects of the Rodney King riots and youths of some other famous people to rise above the violence. It’s still focused on a specific narrative with its own agenda about how they want to paint the neighbourhood, but comedian Paul Rodriguez is surprisingly candid about his life before his entertainment career. The sections regarding the history of white people leaving the neighbourhoods, and the east-west divide are undoubtedly some of the most interesting aspects of the film.

There are no special features. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

Suicide Squad: Extended Cut (4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray & Digital copy)

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ner Bros. Home Entertainment

It feels good to be bad… Assemble a team of the world’s most dangerous, incarcerated Super Villains, provide them with the most powerful arsenal at the government’s disposal, and send them off on a mission to defeat an enigmatic, insuperable entity. U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller has determined only a secretly convened group of disparate, despicable individuals with next to nothing to lose will do. However, once they realize they weren’t picked to succeed but chosen for their patent culpability when they inevitably fail, will the Suicide Squad resolve to die trying, or decide it’s every man for himself?

This was one of the most anticipated movies of the year, as it would introduce a whole new slate of heroes/anti-heroes and mark the return of The Joker to the big screen. And although these beliefs were true, the execution still left many disappointed as it couldn’t effectively walk the line between dark and funny; add to that the choppiness of the narrative flow and audiences had grounds for their dissatisfaction. But then there was talk of the extended edition, which many hoped would resolve many of these issues in the same way the longer version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice solved the same problem. Unfortunately the same things that were enjoyable — good cast, fun moments, mostly fascinating characters — but the issues remain as well since the 10 minutes of additional footage only a little more Harley and Joker, and none of it addresses the flow. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to hear the actors talk about their characters in the bonus features and the details really pop in ultra HD.

Special features include: “Task Force X: One Team, One Mission”; “Squad Strength and Skills”; “Joker and Harley: The ‘It’ Couple of the Underworld”; “Chasing the Real”; and gag reel. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

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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