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Review: This week’s releases take matters into their own hands (Includes first-hand account)

The Craft (Blu-ray)

Scream Factory

Sarah (Robin Tunney) is the new kid at St. Benedict’s Academy. Having always been a bit unusual, she fits right in with the school’s outsiders. There’s something different about them though, and it’s not just that they won’t settle for being a group of powerless misfits. They have discovered The Craft… and they are going to use it.

It wasn’t common in the ‘90s to see a film with a predominantly young, female, lead cast. Moreover, even though there was a supernatural element to the story, it dealt with some real issues high school girls face, such as pressure to have sex, emphasis on physical appearances and bullying. Their magical resource and occasional guide is an older woman who runs a magic shop, and tries to warn them about the forces with which they’re playing. The other three corners of their square are portrayed by Neve Campbell, Fairuza Balk and Rachel True, who become drunk with power and thirst for revenge. There’s a slow build to the special effects that matches the girls’ gradually increasing abilities and although the budget was limited they’re quite effective… but all the snakes are 100 per cent real.

Special features include: commentary with director Andrew Fleming; deleted Scenes with optional commentary; making-of featurette; “Directing The Craft”; “Producing The Craft”; “Writing The Craft”; “Effecting The Craft”; “Conjuring The Craft”; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)

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

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Life has become a balancing act for Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan). Between personal obligations and training for his next big fight, he is up against the challenge of his life. Facing an opponent with ties to his family’s past only intensifies his impending battle in the ring. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is there by his side through it all and, together, Rocky and Adonis will confront their shared legacy, question what’s worth fighting for, and discover that nothing’s more important than family.

The movie combines the plots of Rocky III and Rocky IV with all the key players from the latter returning to make the continuity seamless. As a result, this picture is as much, if not more, of a Rocky sequel as it is a follow-up to Creed. However, since this plot has played out before, the story’s direction is easily predicted and each move anticipated. Yet, even when you know what’s going to happen, there is something captivating about the passion the characters have for the sport they can’t live without — no matter how many times it nearly kills them. There’s nothing ground-breaking about this picture, but its understanding of the franchise’s history is evident and a significant contributor to creating a movie that long-time fans will enjoy. It would have been nice to see a more original approach to this grudge match, but the formula still works 30 years later so if it ain’t broke….

Special features include: deleted scenes; “From Father to Son, Blood Runs Hot”; “Finding the Authentic”; “The Women of Creed II”; and “The Rocky Legacy.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

At the end of the first film, the powerful Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) was captured by MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), with the help of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escaped custody and has set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings. In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists his former student Newt, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world.

Once viewers reach the end of the two-hour-and-14-minute picture, it becomes painfully obvious the film was little more than a set-up for the next chapter and could’ve been summed up in a much shorter time. Where everything in the first film felt fresh and essential, this one seems to be unnecessarily stretching out the narrative. Yet, in between all the filler, there are still wonderful characters, fascinating creatures and striking effects. Newt’s individualism is highlighted in this picture as he’s shown to have been a bit of a loner at Hogwarts, secluding himself with his magical creatures in a hidden alcove. But his thinking is also different from those around him, which is likely why Dumbledore likes him so much. The Niffler cute factor is increased exponentially by the appearance of several furry, baby thieves. Depp’s chameleon abilities and love for disguises makes him a wonderful villain, while his charm makes him a great Grindelwald as he cleverly manipulates people to stand at his side.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “J.K. Rowling: A World Revealed”; “Wizards on Screen, Fans in Real Life”; “Distinctly Dumbledore”; and “Unlocking Scene Secrets.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

London Fields (DVD)

Fox Home Entertainment
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Clairvoyant femme fatale Nicola Six (Amber Heard) has a premonition about her impending murder. Yet rather than try to save herself, she engages in the elaborate seduction of three men, one of whom she knows will be her murderer. One, an American author with a fatal illness (Billy Bob Thornton), decides her story will form the basis of his final novel.

This is supposed to be a semi-noir narrative with a recognizable cast, but it’s mostly just an unrealized mess. For each of the three men, Nicola becomes the type of woman they most desire: a seductive dominatrix, a helpless damsel in distress and a mystery to be solved. The majority of the film is a clumsy rouse to get the men to do as she pleases, generally without a clear purpose. The identity of her killer isn’t exactly a surprise, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense either nor does the ending. The entire picture feels forced and Johnny Depp’s presence is clearly an absurd favour.

There are no special features. (Fox Home Entertainment)

Man’s Best Friend (Blu-ray)

Scream Factory

When an ambitious news journalist (Ally Sheedy) breaks into a genetic research facility, she uncovers the biggest story of her career and unleashes the lab’s most dangerous experiment: Max, a genetically enhanced guard dog with a vicious killer instinct. Superior sight, hearing, strength, and intelligence make him faster, stronger, and smarter than almost any other animal alive — and deadlier. Without the neuropathic drugs needed to curb his aggressive nature, his predatory urge runs out of control … and once he tastes blood, nothing can stop him.

Cujo revealed an appetite for vicious yet well-intentioned dogs, so someone decided to capitalize on it with their own version of the story. This narrative of a genetically-enhanced animal too smart and strong to outmanoeuvre is common, but the creatures are not always this adorable. Max is a sweet-looking Rottweiler-German Shepherd, though his guard dog instincts have been turned up to the nth degree. The journalist is clearly an animal lover, while the scientist played by Lance Henriksen only cares about protecting his project not its furry host. In spite of being a danger to society, audiences will likely still find themselves rooting for the K9 in at least some situations, which may also arouse some conflicting feelings at the end.

Special features include: commentary with writer/director John Lafia; TV spots; trailers. (Scream Factory)

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

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Hundreds of years after our civilization was destroyed, a new world has emerged. A mysterious young woman named Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) leads a band of outcasts in the fight to stop London — now a giant predator city on wheels — from devouring everything in its path.

The problem with young adult fiction is what works in writing doesn’t always translate well to film adaptations. Seeing the epic settings on the screen — particularly the giant machines in motion — is impressive, but the desire to be faithful to the narrative often results in drawn out stories that bores all except the devoted fan. The minute details that give the written word realism and vibrancy can seem clunky and superfluous in the big-screen version. When the world is burning and time is of the essence, someone stopping to admire a rack of jackets before choosing the perfect one seems… impractical. It also says a lot when the most compelling characters are in supporting roles, such as Anna Fang (Jihae) and her kickass fighting skills, and Shrike’s (Stephen Lang) otherworldly, intimidating presence. Visually, it delivers undeniably striking and unique mobile cities. But at 128 minutes, there’s too much wasted time. If it was tighter and focused on hitting the (obvious) beats to propel the story forward, it’d be a much-improved picture.

Special features include: commentary by director Christian Rivers; “Welcome to London”; “End of the Ancients”; “In the Air”; “Film New Zealand”; and “Character Series.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Possession of Hannah Grace (Blu-ray & Digital copy)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

A shocking exorcism spirals out of control, claiming the life of a young woman (Kirby Johnson). Months later, Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell) is working the graveyard shift in the morgue when she takes delivery of a disfigured cadaver. Locked alone inside the basement corridors, Megan begins to experience horrifying visions and starts to suspect that the body may be possessed by a ruthless demonic force.

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This movie is reminiscent of the creepy horror hit, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, as they share many similarities. The opening of the film immediately informs viewers something supernatural is going to haunt the next hour or so. But considering so much time has passed, it’s somewhat surprising to see the same victim in the body bag. The personal demons Megan is struggling with are meant to provide depth to her character, but for the most part they are superfluous to the narrative save for a minor connection with Hannah before the possession. There’s a number of not-so-smart characters in the picture, while Megan’s stubborn need for independence is her downfall. Consequently, there are certainly sinister scenes, but it doesn’t measure up to its predecessor.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “The Killer Cast”; “An Autopsy of Hannah”; and “Megan’s Diaries.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Pride & Prejudice (Blu-ray & DVD)

BBC Home Entertainment

One of five unmarried daughters living in the countryside of 19th-century England, the lively and rebellious Miss Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle) lives in a world where obtaining an advantageous marriage is a woman’s sole occupation. And yet Elizabeth is determined to wed for love. Will her romantic sparring with the mysterious and arrogant Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth) end in misfortune or will love’s true nature prevail?

This is perhaps the most faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved book. The entire 400+ plus page drama unfolds over six one-hour episodes. Elizabeth is strong-minded and fiery, and Ehle portrays her personality with reverence. Darcy has followed Firth throughout his career primarily because he portrayed the snobbish knight in shining armour so well. This perfectly suited but reluctant couple is a permanent staple of pop culture and the gist of their antagonistic courtship is an example of poor first impressions being overcome by perseverance. The countryside in which the miniseries is filmed feels very authentic alongside the period dress and décor. Fans of the book will appreciate the adaptation’s adherence to the original narrative, while those unfamiliar with the tale won’t need to feel like they’re missing anything.

Special features include: “From Page to Screen”; “A Turning Point for Period Drama”; restoration featurette; “The Definitive Pride and Prejudice”; “Love or Money? Courtship and Marriage in Pride and Prejudice”; “The Music of Pride and Prejudice”; and “Lifestyles of the Wealthy in Early 19th Century England.” (BBC Home Entertainment)

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (DVD)

Paramount Home Media Distribution

Raph, Leo, Mikey and Donnie are becoming the heroes they are destined to be. But nothing can prepare them for what they face on — and below — the streets of NYC, where they discover a hidden mystical world and wield brand-new, powered-up weapons. The Turtles face formidable foes, battle bizarre mutants, wrestle a heavyweight champ, and still make time for the best pizza in the city.

This reimagining of the loveable characters is a bit odd in comparison to the classic cartoon. The drawings are square and Splinter isn’t the disciplined, wiry rat of the past. Their adventures are over the top as they encounter otherworldly creatures and travel to other dimensions. The latter actually provides them with super versions of their iconic weapons, though they have trouble harnessing their special abilities. April is much younger than her counterpart, but it does allow for an interesting episode at her Chuck E. Cheese-type workplace. Different isn’t necessarily better, but this contemporary take on the turtle-shelled crime fighters does have some appeal.

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

Road House 2 (Blu-ray)

MVD Visual

Shane Tanner (Johnathon Schaech), son of the legendary “cooler” Dalton, is an undercover DEA agent with all the right moves. He’s put away his share of dealers, but hasn’t made a big-time bust. When a deadly drug runner begins terrorizing his uncle Nate’s (Will Patton) bar in Louisiana, Shane leaves New York and heads south, determined to settle the score.

There were several factors that contributed to the first film’s cult following: Patrick Swayze‘s charisma, his camaraderie with Sam Elliott, the quick and dirty fights, and their “Be nice until it’s time not to be nice” rule. Even though the bouncers at Nate’s bar know Dalton and the rules, nobody is very interested in following them. Nonetheless, there are multiple winks to the movie’s (better) predecessor. Shane adopted some of his father’s moves, but he’s a cop not a cooler. Jake Busey plays the erratically explosive drug dealer running the town, though it’s somewhat hard to believe someone wouldn’t have dethroned him already rather than tolerate his constant abuse. Possibly the biggest disappointment is that in spite of being set alongside the bayou, no one gets fed to the alligators.

Special features include: theatrical trailer. (MVD Visual)

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Someone to Watch Over Me (Blu-ray)

Shout Select

Newly appointed detective Mike Keegan (Tom Berenger) finds his life turned upside-down when he’s assigned to protect Claire Gregory (Mimi Rogers), the beautiful eyewitness to a brutal murder. Lured into danger and the dizzying heights of Claire’s glamorous lifestyle, Mike struggles to walk the line between protection and obsession — while trying to stay one step ahead of the psychotic killer.

This movie is so cliché, it’s irritating. Mike is a blue collar guy living with his loving family in Queens who is dazzled and swept up by Claire’s sophisticated ‘80s lifestyle. Against the police’s advice, she repeatedly leaves her apartment and puts them and her in harm’s way. Yet, Mike finds her arrogance and fragility attractive and begins an affair everyone knows about. There’s no secret in regards to the identity of the killer either — the suspense is in whether or not he’ll be able to silence the witness to his crime. Director Ridley Scott agreed to helm this project to show producers he could make a low budget movie without special effects and he succeeds, even if the narrative is commonplace.

Special features include: interview with writer Howard Franklin; and interview with director of photography Steven Poster. (Shout Select)

Then Came You (Blu-ray)

Shout Factory

Skye (Maisie Williams) is a spunky teenager with a terminal illness who befriends Calvin (Asa Butterfield), a 19-year old hypochondriac who is afraid of his own shadow. Calvin helps Skye carry out her eccentric bucket list of things to do before she dies. In the process, he learns to confront and conquer his own fears, including falling in love with the beautiful, but seemingly untouchable, Izzy (Nina Dobrev).

Becoming friends with someone you know will die soon is a difficult thing to do at any age. But Calvin does just that and he almost never tries to keep Skye at a distance to spare his own feelings when the time comes. Their friendship is touching, fun and, in some ways, even more meaningful because there’s never a chance it could become romantic. Skye makes it her mission to help Calvin live his life to the fullest so he can enjoy the many things she’ll miss. It’s not sappy or melodramatic, which makes it easy to watch because it doesn’t feel like filmmakers are trying to manipulate audiences with every kind gesture or reference to her illness. Moreover, Williams and Butterfield have great chemistry, making every laugh and awkward exchange feel genuine.

Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; and theatrical trailer. (Shout Studios)

Welcome Home (Blu-ray)

VVS Films

Bryan (Aaron Paul) and Cassie (Emily Ratajkowski) spend their weekend at a vacation rental house in the Italian countryside in an attempt to reconcile with each other and repair their relationship. However, the couple becomes the victims of the evil plans of the rental home’s owner.

There’s a lot of menace in this movie, but it’s not all dispensed by the picture’s villains. Bryan and Cassie’s relationship is on the rocks, and even though it looks like their trying, the well is already poisoned. Trusting seemingly kind people in unfamiliar territory seems like a bit of a necessity, but it also opens the door to be deceived. The owner’s ploy is revealed rather early, though its purpose — beyond the typical perversions — is not discovered until much later, creating a somewhat ironic conclusion. The couple’s anger and resentment towards each other runs deep, making Paul’s and Ratajkowski’s jobs a bit more difficult as they must balance that with a desire to reconcile and an underlying love that may save their lives.

Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette. (VVS Films)

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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