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Review: This week’s releases find the good even when it all goes wrong (Includes first-hand account)

Beckman (DVD)


Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Aaron Beckman (David A.R. White) is finished — done with a life lived in the shadows as a cruel gun for hire. Now, his soul cries out for healing, peace, forgiveness, and grace. In desperation, he appeals to the church and is welcomed by an ailing pastor (Jeff Fahey) like a long-lost son. However, his journey towards salvation is cut short when his adopted daughter (Brighton Sharbino) is kidnapped by a deranged cult leader (William Baldwin). Blinded by rage, Beckman sets off on a dangerous rescue mission and is forced to revert back to his old violent ways. The only thing that may be able to stop Beckman’s rampage is his faith — but will he remember it in time to save his soul?

As noted by White in the bonus features, this movie is a combination of Man on Fire and John Wick… but with less accomplished actors and an unoriginal script that seems to borrow from both films. Not much is revealed about Beckman, except he used to be a bad man with an intimidating and well-known reputation. He once had a lot of money and a respectable arsenal, and now he’s calling in favours to get the right equipment and information required to recover his step-daughter. Similarly, the cult that abducted her is shrouded in mystery, except for the fact that they traffic in young women. With all the unfilled holes and story tropes audiences have seen before, there isn’t much to keep them engaged in the picture beyond just wanting to see what exactly happens once he finds her, which isn’t much of a climax in the end.

Special features include: commentary by writer/director Gabriel Sabloff and executive producer/star David A.R. White; making-of featurette; and bloopers. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

Ben 10 Versus the Universe: The Movie (DVD)


Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

When a blast from Ben’s past — Vilgax — returns to do double the damage on Team Tennyson and planet Earth itself, Ben must go interstellar to save the day while Gwen and Grandpa Max team-up with Kevin 11 to protect the world in Ben’s absence. But when the boy hero is confused for the villain in space, Ben is force to defend himself in the trial of a century.

For those unfamiliar with the TV series about the child superhero, this film isn’t exactly an effective introduction. The narrative almost requires viewers be familiar with the television storylines and the characters’ arcs in order to understand the significance of events in this picture, such as Ben’s history with the villain and how he could be mistaken for the bad guy. The animation style is similar to other Cartoon Network shows, which are generally bold and vibrant. Fans of the series will enjoy seeing the super-kid in a larger adventure as one of the things it has in its favour is not feeling like a bunch of episodes sewn together with a thin thread.

Special features include: animatics. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

The Deeper You Dig (Blu-ray)


Arrow Video

Bogus tarot card reader Ivy (Toby Poser) and her teenage daughter Echo (Zelda Adams) are an unconventional but loving mother/daughter team. But when reclusive Kurt (John Adams) moves in down the road, a tragic accident results in Echo’s murder, causing three lives to collide in mysterious and wicked ways. Kurt believes he can hide his secret beneath the earth — but Echo, refusing to accept death, burrows into his head until he can feel her in his bones. As she haunts his every move, trying to reach her mother from beyond, Ivy must dig deep to see the signs and prove that love won’t stay buried.

This is an unconventional ghost story in which the spectre plays by her own rules. The events that lead to the haunting are a bit difficult to swallow as Kurt makes a couple of puzzlingly poor decisions that not only increase his culpability, but pushes viewers away. Then his attempts to cover-up his crime are so ill-conceived, one starts to wonder how much he really wants to avoid being caught. Echo’s poltergeist antics are somewhat amusing — seemingly taken out of the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased” — and do give Kurt his comeuppance, before once again taking a strange turn. What’s most interesting about this film is its stars are a real-life, husband, wife and daughter. This release also includes their earlier ghost story about a man who returns from the dead to help his daughter exact revenge on his murderers.

Special features include: The Hatred, feature-length film; commentary by writers/directors/stars Toby Poser and John Adams; “At Home with the Adams Family”; “It’s in the Blood: The Family in the Horror Genre”; special effects breakdown with commentary by Trey Lindsay; “FrightFest TV” interview with the Adams Family; image gallery; trailer; and limited edition illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Neil Mitchell. (Arrow Video)

The Flintstones: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)


Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

The Flintstones and Rubbles consistently find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Living in the suburbs in the town of Bedrock, Fred Flintstone is a devoted husband who is employed at the Slate Rock and Gravel Company. He is married to Wilma, a smart, strong-willed, red-headed beauty. Their next-door neighbors and friends are Barney and Betty Rubble. The four of them are always involved in a variety of hilarious shenanigans of every-day living. Although they live in pre-historic times, they have modern conveniences, but they are made from stone-age materials and mainly powered by animals.

First airing in 1960, this was the first animated series to get a primetime TV spot. Hanna Barbera created a number of beloved cartoon characters, but these characters are some of the best known. Over six seasons and 166 episodes, the Flintstones and the Rubbles would entertain audiences with their prehistoric domestic antics, which included foot-powered cars, brontosaurus steaks, bowling nights and membership at the Water Buffalo lodge. About halfway through the series, Wilma would give birth to Pebbles and the Rubbles would adopt her best friend and future husband, Bamm-Bamm. The show would spawn a number of TV specials, movies and a live-action film, but it always comes back to the original animated series that is still entertaining 60 years later. This wonderful collection is a reminder of everything that made the classic cartoon a lifetime favourite.

Special features include: “The Man Called Flintstone”; and “The Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age Smackdown!” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Friendsgiving (Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Abby (Kat Dennings) is looking forward to a laid-back Thanksgiving with her best friend, Molly (Malin Akerman). But the friends’ plans for a quiet turkey dinner go up in smoke when they’re joined by Molly’s new boyfriend (Jack Donnelly) and her flamboyant mother (Jane Seymour). Throw in some party crashers, including Molly’s old flame, a wannabe shaman, and a trio of Fairy Gay Mothers (Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, and Fortune Feimster), and it’s a recipe for a comically chaotic holiday no one will ever forget — even if they wanted to!

The holidays are generally a great source of humour as hosts and guests are surrounded by everyone they love… and can’t stand to be around. As both Abby and Molly are recovering from break-ups, a quiet evening together without any social pressures seems like a good idea. Then the doorbell rings and your welcoming friends, family, rebounds, exes and anyone else who may fit at the table. “The more the merrier” sounds great in theory, but it can also be a bumpy rollercoaster of emotions. The day runs the gamut from fun and uplifting to awkward and upsetting to depressing and regretful, then back again. Dennings and Akerman are very convincing friends, and the story is based on real-life experiences by Akerman and writer/director Nicol Paone who were once roommates, so the whole narrative has an air of relatability.

Special features include: commentary by writer/director Nicol Paone and producer/actor Malin Akerman; making-of featurette; and gag reel. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

Ivansxtc (Blu-ray)


Arrow Video

Opening with the death of its titular protagonist, the film goes back in time to chart the final days of hot-shot Tinseltown agent Ivan Beckman (Danny Huston) and his fast-paced, wheeler-dealer lifestyle, which will ultimately lead him to an early grave after a shock cancer diagnosis.

The film is loosely based on Leo Tolstoy‘s 1886 novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, in which a man who lives an artificial life finds clarity on his death bed. The film begins with the revelation of Ivan’s death as those around him are shocked to discover he’s died, let alone had terminal cancer. Up until his final moments in the public eye, Ivan maintains the façade of a party-hard womanizer that keeps up with his clients and then keeps it going at the private after-party. Even when his body is telling him to slowdown, he’s trying to push or medicate himself into the next gear. Mixing his prescriptions with any number of substances, he still spends his quiet time trying to find alternate remedies for his diagnosis. Huston’s portrayal of a man who thrives on excess before being inevitably humbled by illness is powerful, driving the film to its full circle, more enlightened conclusion.

Special features include: theatrical cut, director’s version and producer’s version of the film; commentary for the extended cut by co-writer/producer/ actor Lisa Enos and filmmaker Richard Wolstencroft; extended scenes; “Charlotte’s Story”; Q&A from 2018 screening; interviews with Lisa Enos and Bernard Rose from the 2001 Santa Barbara Film Festival; original theatrical trailer; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Peter Strain. (Arrow Video)

Papicha (DVD)


Icarus Films

Algeria, 1990s. Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri), an 18-year-old student passionate about fashion design, refuses to let the tragic events of the Algerian Civil War keep her from experiencing a normal life and going out at night with her best friend Wassila (Shirine Boutella). As the social climate becomes more conservative, she rejects the new bans set by the radicals, and decides to fight for her freedom and independence by putting on a fashion show.

This is a movie about feminism in an environment that punishes female empowerment with death. Nedjma is a talented designer, selling her dresses out of nightclub bathrooms to girls who share her passion for self-expression. However, the religious fanaticism taking hold of the country is resulting in unavoidable violence, from bombings to assassinations. Yet, Nedjma and Wassila rebel against the rising conservativism, tearing down posters promoting the “haik”, or veils, for women and planning a fashion show inspired by the proposed dress code, but with a controversial twist. The rampant terrorism is quite disturbing as women and men with guns frequently storm rooms, taking hostages or killing everyone in sight. These scenes are quite visceral, while Nedjma’s dedication to her beliefs is inspiring as Khoudri delivers a powerhouse performance.

There are no special features. (Icarus Films)

Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale Special Edition (DVD)


Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

After watching the season’s final performance of “The Nutcracker” ballet on Christmas Eve, Jerry dreams of dancing with the beautiful prima ballerina, who captivates him with her graceful performance. After the theater patrons leave, Jerry climbs onto the stage and begins to dance on his own, as Tuffy Mouse cheers him on. Through the magic of Christmas Eve, Jerry is suddenly transformed into one of the dancers. Costumed to look like the regal prince, he takes center stage, which turns into a winter wonderland, as all the toy props around him come to life, and Tchaikovsky’s music begins to play. A petite music box ballerina springs to life and joins Jerry as the two of them dance their way into the Nutcracker’s magical realm. It seems as though Jerry’s fantasy has finally become a reality. That’s until Tom and his band of alley cats enter through the theater’s stage door, capture all the toys and lock the beautiful ballerina in a cage.

Each time a new version of “The Nutcracker” arrives, one questions whether yet another adaptation was necessary. But the animated takes on the classic Christmas tale are typically welcome and the adorable Tuffy makes this one worthwhile. Not everyone may have been aware of Jerry’s love for the theatre, but he makes an impeccable little prince of the dolls. However, this story does take a lot of liberties with the original to infuse it with Tom and Jerry’s style. Jerry is accompanied by a decoration, a pull-string horse and the loyal Tuffy on his quest to free the ballerina, who is not just going to sit back and wait to be rescued. While Tom is not the leader of the cats, he does carry out most of their efforts to prevent Jerry from freeing their captive. The feature-length picture is cute and funny with all the right twists to make it a holiday treat.

Special features include: “Tom and Jerry The Night Before Christmas”; and “Tom and Jerry: Santa’s Little Helpers.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Warning From Space (Blu-ray)


Arrow Video

As Japan is rocked by mysterious sightings of UFOs over Tokyo and large one-eyed aliens attempting contact, scientists collaborate to investigate the unexpected rise in extraterrestrial activity. Unbeknownst to them, one of the aliens has already assumed human form and is about to deliver a very important message that could be humanity’s last hope for survival.

This was the first Japanese science fiction film to be made in colour, using the same special effects team that would bring Gamera to life 10 years later. Even though an alien craze is sweeping the nation, astrophysicists are shocked to suddenly see something unfamiliar in their telescopes raining something down on the Earth. However, fear of the unknown causes the scientists to reject the infiltrators in spite of their efforts to deliver a warning. Yet, the extraterrestrials prove more agreeable than their human hosts, still offering their assistance as humanity finds itself on the brink of extinction. Their alien forms are like nothing seen before or since, but the narrative is a fairly straightforward sci-fi story.

Special features include: commentary by Stuart Galbraith IV, author of “Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo!”; image galleries; theatrical trailers; and illustrated collector’s booklet featuring an essay on artist Taro Okamoto by Japanese art historian Nick West, and an essay on the production of the American edit of the film by David Cairns. (Arrow Video)

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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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