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Review: This week’s releases struggle for power

This week’s releases include a test of family loyalty; an intricately detailed heist; a haunted hospital; the first of a sci-fi adaptation; a vampire movie mash-up; and an average Joe avenger.

A scene from 'F9: The Fast Saga'
A scene from 'F9: The Fast Saga' courtesy of Universal Studios
A scene from 'F9: The Fast Saga' courtesy of Universal Studios

This week’s releases include a test of family loyalty; an intricately detailed heist; a haunted hospital; the first of a sci-fi adaptation; a vampire movie mash-up; and an average Joe avenger.

Breakdown on Blu-ray
Paramount Home Entertainment

Breakdown (Blu-ray)

Jeff Taylor (Kurt Russell) is headed toward a new life in California with his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan). When their car dies on a remote highway, a seemingly helpful trucker (J.T. Walsh) offers Amy a ride to the local diner while Jeff waits with the car. Then Jeff discovers his vehicle was deliberately tampered with and by the time he gets to the next town, his worst fears come true.

Being stranded on an isolated, unknown road with no cell service is already a fear-inducing prospect that movies have been capitalizing on for years. This narrative doubles down on that anxiety with a seemingly friendly gesture turning into a mysterious kidnapping. Having never met these people before, Jeff can’t fathom why they would be targeted and everyone he turns to for help acts as if he’s exaggerating the situation. Even though Russell had established himself as a bit of an action star by this time, it’s still strange to watch this mild-mannered, upper-middle-class average guy take the risks Jeff does to rescue his wife. It’s also great that a very inane conversation becomes a key component to an unplanned scheme to buy them some time.

Special features include: commentary by director Jonathan Mostow and Kurt Russell; alternate opening; alternate opening with commentary by director Jonathan Mostow; “Filmmaker Focus: Director Jonathan Mostow on Breakdown”; “Victory Is Hers – Kathleen Quinlan on Breakdown”; “A Brilliant Partnership – Martha De Laurentiis on Breakdown”; isolated score; and theatrical trailers. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Dune (1984) on 4K
Arrow Video

Dune [Limited Edition] (4K Ultra HD)

The year is 10,191, and four planets are embroiled in a secret plot to wrest control of the Spice Melange, the most precious substance in the universe and found only on the planet Arrakis. A feud between two powerful dynasties, House Atreides and House Harkonnen, is manipulated from afar by ruling powers that conspire to keep their grip on the spice. As the two families clash on Arrakis, Duke Atreides’ son Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) finds himself at the center of an intergalactic war and an ancient prophecy that could change the galaxy forever.

The previous attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name was abandoned after several years in the ‘70s, but director David Lynch was able to successfully bring it to the big screen as his third feature film in 1984, having been recruited by executive producer Dino De Laurentiis. Unfortunately, its greatest effort is also its downfall — the adaptation is so faithful to the source material, it alienates most audiences with its complexity and alienness. Moreover, at a time before books were divided into multiple films, its attempt to squeeze 900 pages into a single 137-minute movie required a lot of expository narration that replaced many intricate scenes that made Herbert’s sci-fi world so interesting. On the other hand, the visual elements are spectacular and ambitiously faithful to the source descriptions. A mix of miniatures and towering practical sets brings the story to life in a way that was nearly unimaginable at the time. If only the narrative could’ve lived up to the aesthetic.

Special features include: commentary by film historian Paul M. Sammon; commentary by Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast; deleted scenes; “Impressions of Dune,” a 2003 documentary; “Designing Dune”; “Dune FX”; “Dune Models & Miniatures”; “Dune Costumes”; “Destination Dune”; “Beyond Imagination: Merchandising Dune”; “Prophecy Fulfilled: Scoring Dune”; interview with make-up effects artist Giannetto de Rossi; interview with production coordinator Golda Offenheim; interview with star Paul Smith; interview with make-up effects artist Christopher Tucker; six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions; fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dániel Taylor; and 60-page perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the film by Andrew Nette, Christian McCrea and Charlie Brigden. (Arrow Video)

F9 The Fast Saga on 4K
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

F9: The Fast Saga (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)

Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) thought he’d left his outlaw life in the rear-view mirror, but not even he can outrun the past. When his forsaken brother Jakob (John Cena) unexpectedly resurfaces as an elite assassin, the crew comes back together to help Dom confront the sins of his own past and stop a world-shattering plot.

As a franchise built on family, it seems it was inevitable that a new black sheep would emerge that would test Dom’s credo. This installment in the Fast franchise introduces a Toretto brother no one ever mentioned before that happens to have grown into Dom’s twin. The story still follows the typical formula of the team coming together to stop a world-ending heist via unbelievable stunt driving in dangerously fast cars. This round includes two cars cliff-diving and a ride to brand-new heights for a couple of drivers. This film also marks the miraculous return of Han (Sung Kang) and a couple of unexpected cameos by Cardi B. and the ever-awesome Helen Mirren, whose description in the special features of events leading to her being in the film should not be missed. The whole sibling rivalry narrative is a bit difficult to swallow, which says a lot in a series that is constantly pushing the limits of plausibility, but Cena’s seamless addition to the cast does push his acceptance in the end.

Special features include: commentary (theatrical and director’s cut) with producer/co-writer/director Justin Lin; “F9: All In”; “Practically Fast”; “Shifting Priorities”; “Justice for Han”; “A Day on Set with Justin Lin”; and “John Cena: Supercar Superfan.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Power on DVD
RLJE Films & Shudder

The Power (DVD)

London, 1974. As Britain prepares for electrical blackouts to sweep across the country, trainee nurse Val (Rose Williams) arrives for her first day at the crumbling East London Royal Infirmary. With most of the patients and staff evacuated to another hospital, Val must work the night shift in the empty building. Within these walls lies a deadly secret, forcing Val to face her own traumatic past in order to confront the malevolent power that’s intent on destroying everything around her.

This story begins as a pretty conventional ghost story set in a classically creepy hospital that feels dark and abandoned as Val is left alone to her duties. However, the entity seems to have a very specific interest in the nurse that isn’t typical paranormal behaviour, which imbues the tale with a strange vibe. It’s slowly revealed this is really a story about trauma and its haunting effects on its victim. The only person who believes Val is a young Indian girl (Shakira Rahman) who travelled to the hospital alone for a special treatment. Even though they don’t speak the same language, Val and the girl are able to connect over these terrifying experiences — “We’re the same” the girl says. The conclusion is a bit clumsy, but it’s an attempt to get justice for at least one of the two characters.

Special features include: commentary with writer/director Corrina Faith, cinematographer Laura Bellingham and actress Rose Williams; and behind-the-scenes photo gallery (RLJE Films & Shudder)

Sundown The Vampire in Retreat on Blu-ray
Vestron Video

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat [Collector’s Series] (Blu-ray)

The road to Purgatory is paved with good intentions, and Count Mardulak (David Carradine) wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s seeking atonement for centuries of human carnage, which is why he’s instructed Purgatory’s vampire residents to slather on SPF 100 sunblock, pursue daytime activities… and drink only synthetic blood. But some vampires don’t agree with Mardulak — they want the real thing — and if that means wooden bullets flying in a vampire civil war, so be it!

This movie blends multiple genres — horror, comedy and the western – in a seamless manner thanks to its great cast, which also includes Bruce Campbell, Maxwell Caulfield, M. Emmet Walsh and John Ireland. It’s a fairly common narrative for vampires to tire of their lives and seek drastic change to spice things up or make amends for past transgressions. The movie begins with a shocking but humorous indiscretion that carries through a few more scenes. These vampires’ approach to rejoining the living is quite resourceful, combining a readily available product with a modern scientific advancement. Of course, some are tempted to return to their old ways by Mardulak’s rival who doesn’t comprehend who he’s up against, while others try to deal with the arrival of the fabled Van Helsing. This is a very enjoyable genre mash-up with a couple of twists to increase the stakes.

Special features include: commentary with director Anthony Hickox and director of photography Levie Isaacks; “Wild Weird West,” an interview with director Anthony Hickox; “Bloodsuckers from Purgatory,” an interview with special makeup effects creator Tony Gardner; “Memories of Moab,” an interview with actor Bruce Campbell; “A Vampire Reformed,” an interview with actor David Carradine; “A True Character,” an interview with actor M. Emmet Walsh; isolated score; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Vestron Video)

The Vault on DVD
Paramount Home Entertainment

The Vault (DVD & Digital copy)

When an engineer (Freddie Highmore) learns of a mysterious, impenetrable fortress hidden under The Bank of Spain, he joins a crew of master thieves who plan to steal the legendary lost treasure locked inside while the whole country is distracted by Spain’s World Cup Final. With thousands of soccer fans cheering in the streets and security forces closing in, the crew have just minutes to pull off the score of a lifetime.

The idea that a brilliant engineer who’s never committed a crime would so easily join a gang of high-stakes burglars is a bit difficult to swallow, though viewers will have to quickly accept the extraordinary premise to get on with the story. However, each time he comes up with a way to improve their robbery, it’s hard not to think of his spotless past. Otherwise, the film has all the characteristics of a typical heist movie and is actually quite innovative in its many components to get away with the priceless loot. It certainly parallels Ocean’s 11, but distinguishes itself with its own unique personalities and safe structure. Highmore still seems too innocent for the role, but he nevertheless fits well with the rest of the cast.

There are no special features. (Paramount 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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