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Review: The past is prevalent in this week’s releases

This week’s releases include an impressive animated epic; the next chapter in saving the world; a collection spanning centuries, etc.

A scene from 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife'
A scene from 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' courtesy of Sony Pictures
A scene from 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' courtesy of Sony Pictures

This week’s releases include an impressive animated epic; the next chapter in saving the world; a collection spanning centuries; a boxset that exceeds expectations; a couple of mediocre takes on common plots; a moving wartime drama; and couple of thrillers from the experts.

American Sicario on Blu-ray
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

American Sicario (Blu-ray & Digital copy)

“It’s time the world knows who I am.” These prophetic words ignite this action-packed story of the perilous rise and fall of Erik Vasquez (Philippe A. Haddad), the first American-born drug lord in Mexico. After a drug shipment goes horribly wrong, Vasquez is caught in a crossfire between a deadly cartel, the DEA, and the Mexican authorities. As he rushes from safehouse to safehouse, defending his turf and his family, Vasquez heads toward a fateful showdown.

This seems like an interesting take on the common drug cartel story, but Haddad does not have the ability to carry this film. As if to compensate for the movie’s shortcomings, Danny Trejo, who only has a supporting role in the picture, is plastered across all the promotional material — and is still far better than its star. Its blend of The Fast and the Furious, Scarface and Goodfellas falls flat with over-the-top tests of loyalty and a reckless attempt to mislead his enemies that has predictably devastating consequences. Only Trejo’s character and one of Vasquez’s men seem to have any sense, but they can’t stop the drug lord from making one poor choice after another, alienating the audience in the process.

Special features include: commentary by actors Philippe H. Haddad and Maurice Compte, cinematographer Pascal Combes-Knoke and producer Ross Campbell; “The Family You Choose: Making American Sicario”; and “The Art of the Possible: The Look of American Sicario.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

Apex on Blu-ray
RLJE Films

Apex (Blu-ray)

Serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, ex-cop Thomas Malone (Bruce Willis) is offered a chance at freedom if he can survive a deadly game of Apex. Six hunters pay for the pleasure of hunting another human on a remote island, but once Malone arrives all hell breaks loose. Laying traps and playing mind games, Malone tries to turn the tables and fight for his life and his future.

This human-prey narrative has seen a resurgence of late, having been fairly popular in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. However, this movie doesn’t follow the classic formula of the target turning the tables on the hunters. Malone has a history of being difficult to kill, but his pursuers are too preoccupied with outdoing each other. There are aspects of the picture that are futuristic, such as holograms and teleportation, but the weaponry and tactics are all comparatively archaic. Willis’ performance is adequate but one-dimensional, while Neal McDonough makes an excellent but difficult to comprehend villain. Unlike some of its predecessors, this movie doesn’t have a deeper meaning — it’s just a straightforward action movie.

There are no special features. (RLJE Films)

DC's Stargirl Season 2 on Blu-ray
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

DC’s Stargirl: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)

The series follows high school sophomore Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) and her stepfather Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson) as she leads an unlikely group of young heroes to take on the legacy of DC’s very first Super Hero team, the Justice Society of America. In the second season, Courtney and her friends take on one of the most frightening adversaries in DC’s mythology — the dark entity of corruption known as Eclipso (Nick Tarabay).

Where the first season focused on a group of misfit teens finding their place in the world and friendship along the way, this season centres on a past villain that destroyed the former JSA and has returned to wreak havoc on the new one. Consequently, Pat is pushed to reveal much more of the agency’s history, while trying to protect the young heroes from the uglier aspects of world saving. Adolescents are all emotion, which can be both an advantage and a detriment, depending on the situation. This season has very little downtime as they seem to be under constant threat from old and new villains, resulting in an action-packed season that forces everyone to grow up a little faster.

Special features include: “Never Alone: Heroes and Allies”; and gag reel. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Ghostbusters Ultimate Collection on 4K
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Ghostbusters Ultimate Collection (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)

Ghostbusters: Three parapsychologists forced out of their university funding set up shop as a unique ghost removal service in New York City, attracting frightened yet skeptical customers.

Ghostbusters II: The discovery of a massive river of ectoplasm and a resurgence of spectral activity allows the staff of Ghostbusters to revive the business.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife: When a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town, they begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind.

In 1984, audiences came to know a group of paranormal investigators (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson) who develop a way to capture and contain spectres for a fee. They take their jobs seriously, but approach it with a sense of humour that captured fans’ hearts and imaginations. Five years later, the sequel offered more of the same, replacing marshmallow goo with a pink ooze. Then that admiration sat without an outlet for more than a quarter of a century until Paul Feig reimagined the narrative with mixed results. Rather than abandon the franchise, the studio took another approach to reviving the ghost busting heroes with a new generation of brave paranormal hunters who successfully took up the torch under the guidance of Ghostbuster originator Ivan Reitman’s son, Jason Reitman. Though the third film is only available digitally in this collection, the abundance of special features on the bonus discs for the other three pictures allow fans to gain an even deeper appreciation of these beloved films with deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, audition tapes and a rare preview cut of Ghostbusters — plus a reprint of the original 220-page book, Making Ghostbusters. And to bring it all home, this awesome collection comes in a box that mimics the classic ghost trap and lights up.

Includes original release special features, plus two special features bonus discs. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Paranoiac on Blu-ray
Shout! Factory

Paranoiac [Collector’s Edition] (Blu-ray)

Rescued from a suicide attempt by a man claiming to be her long-dead brother, a young heiress (Janette Scott) finds a new reason to live. But her relatives have doubts. They think “Tony” (Alexander Davion) is an imposter who’s trying to get his hands on the family fortune. Everyone has their own secret reasons to suspect Tony, as well as their own designs on his vast inheritance — especially brother Simon (Oliver Reed), a magnetic but devastatingly cruel wretch who’ll stop at nothing to thwart the supposed pretender.

This is an unusual mystery as it involves the return of a man presumed dead, first in fleeting glimpses that frighten his loved ones before finally coming forward to reclaim his place in the family. As audiences are privy to the many conversations occurring around the confusing situation, they are able to comprehend what is happening before many of the characters. What’s interesting about this narrative is there’s no one for audiences to fully support as they’re all so deceitful, greedy and/or gullible, though that doesn’t take anything away from the very convincing performances. Although the monsters in this movie are human, it still displays Hammer Films’ expertise in creating captivating thrillers.

Special features include: audio commentary with film historian Bruce Hallenbeck; “Drink to Deception”; “A Toast to Terror”; “The Making of Hammer’s Paranoiac” hosted by author Wayne Kinsey; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Shout! Factory)

Red Angel on Blu-ray
Arrow Films

Red Angel [Special Edition] (Blu-ray)

When Sakura Nishi (Ayako Wakao) is dispatched in 1939 to a ramshackle field hospital in Tientsin, the frontline of Japan’s war with China, she and her colleagues find themselves fighting a losing battle tending to the war-wounded and emotionally shell-shocked soldiers while assisting head surgeon, Dr. Okabe (Shinsuke Ashida), conduct an unending series of amputations. As the Chinese troops close in, she finds herself increasingly drawn to Okabe who, impotent to stall the mounting piles of cadavers, has retreated into his own private hell of morphine addiction.

This is a very raw and emotional portrayal of wartime. The film opens with Sakura’s narrative, though it’s used sparingly throughout the picture. Her early nursing experiences are horrific before she’s even sent to the frontlines, though an instance of her compassion while there is almost more confusing. At first glance, it appears to be the classic tale of a nurse falling in love with a doctor, but it’s far more complex as Okabe struggles with the futility of his role and cannot comprehend how or why someone would love a man in his position. Sakura is devoted to her job and the doctor, giving her the courage to deal with all the horrors surrounding her. Sex and physical connections are unexpectedly prevalent in the movie as everyone seems to be clinging to the most primitive elements of their humanity.

Special features include: commentary by Japanese cinema scholar David Desser; introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns; “Not All Angels Have Wings”; image gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Arrow Films)

Shock on Blu-ray
Arrow Films

Shock [Special Edition] (Blu-ray)

Dora (Daria Nicolodi) moves back into her old family home with her husband, Bruno (John Steiner), and Marco (David Colin Jr.), her young son from her previous marriage. But domestic bliss proves elusive as numerous strange and disturbing occurrences transpire, while Dora is haunted by a series of nightmares and hallucinations, many of them involving her dead former husband. Is the house itself possessed? Or does Dora’s increasingly fragile grip on reality originate from somewhere far closer to home?

This is undoubtedly a Giallo narrative at its core. The house appears innocent enough, but there is a malevolent force lurking around every corner… and behind Marco’s eyes. In spite of his young age, Collin Jr. portrays the strange intensity imbued in his character with chilling accuracy. The film walks the fine line between hysteria and a tangible threat as Dora experiences all kinds of strange things after they move into the house, from peculiar noises to visions of her dead husband to her son’s unusual behaviour. As is usually the case with these pictures, the answer is not clear-cut as it takes a little from column A and a little from column B to comprise its conclusion. Director Mario Bava is well-versed in this genre and he expertly weaves this tale of ghosts, guilt and fear.

Special features include: commentary by Tim Lucas, author of “Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark”; “A Ghost in the House”; “Via Dell’Orologio 33”; “The Devil Pulls the Strings”; “Shock! Horror! – The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava”; “The Most Atrocious Tortur(e)”; image gallery; TV spots; and theatrical trailer. (Arrow Films)

The Spine of Night on Blu-ray
RLJE Films

The Spine of Night steelbook (Blu-ray)

This epic fantasy tale, about the history of a land that never was, begins when an ambitious young man steals forbidden knowledge from a sacred plant. He falls to its darker temptations and, in so doing, unleashes ages of suffering onto mankind. As his power grows over the years, it falls to people of different ilk and culture to attempt to stop him. Among those who stand against him are a daring tomb-robber, star-crossed lovers, a maniacal necromancer, winged assassins and an undying guardian.

This is an animated fantasy epic with a style reminiscent of Heavy Metal and a story equal to some of the most memorable ‘80s fantasy movies. The “Swamp Witch” narrates the film as she relays the events to an ancient guardian of the sacred blue flower that grants its possessor significant power. The story unfolds over several years, marking noteworthy events though many are filled with heartbreak and destruction. It’s a gripping tale of magic and violence underlined with a glimmer of hope that balance can be restored. While it’s indistinguishable while watching the picture, the bonus features reveal filmmakers actually used a lesser used technique called rotoscoping to animate the film, which involves tracing over motion picture footage to produce realistic animated action. Thus, the characters’ appearances are a combination of the actors who portrayed their actions and the voice actors, which include Lucy Lawless, Richard E. Grant, Patton Oswalt, Joe Manganiello and Larry Fessenden.

Special features include: making-of featurette; and Exordium and Mongrel short films. (RLJE Films)

Star Trek Discovery season 1-3 on Blu-ray
Paramount Home Entertainment

Star Trek: Discovery: Season 1-3 (Blu-ray)

Season 1: In an odyssey that unfolds a decade before the era of Star Trek: The Original Series, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), formerly one of Starfleets’s most respected first officers, is now its first mutineer. A human raised as a Vulcan, Burnham learned early that “all life is born from chaos.” Her defiance of a direct order resulted in an all-out war with the Klingon Empire, and she was sentenced to life in prison — until Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) recruits her aboard the U.S.S. Discovery. Joining her on this dramatic, epic journey are First Officer Saru (Doug Jones), Chief of Security Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), Chief Engineer Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), and Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman). Together, their powers of logic, science and compassion will meld on their quest for victory, survival and ultimately, peace in the universe.

Season 2: After answering a distress signal from the U.S.S. Enterprise, the U.S.S. Discovery welcomes aboard Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and begins a new mission to investigate the meaning behind seven mysterious red signals. Michael Burnham grapples with her past growing up on Vulcan with her foster parents and brother, Spock (Ethan Peck).

Season 3: After following Commander Michael Burnham into a wormhole, the U.S.S. Discovery lands in an unrecognizable world 1,000 years in the future. With Starfleet and the Federation on the brink of collapse due to a catastrophic event known as The Burn, the Discovery crew, with the help of new and mysterious allies Book (David Ajala) and Adira (Blu del Barrio), must uncover what caused The Burn and restore hope to the galaxy.

This reimagining of the Star Trek franchise works surprisingly well, feeling more contemporary in spite of its prequel status and adopting a more linear narrative each season. There are a couple of episodes that focus on a single plot resolved by its end, but there’s a greater focus on Michael’s overarching story as she develops into a more competent officer and faces unbelievable circumstances. This series spends significant time where other Star Trek programs only briefly ventured. There are also more unexpected twists than could have been anticipated, keeping fans on their toes and on the edge of their seats. The cast is excellent, each bringing something different to their varying personalities, while showing they can pull together when necessary. Though, the show also demonstrates it’s not afraid to kill any of its characters, while also teasing several goodbyes and repeatedly pulling on fans’ heartstrings. The series tells intriguing stories that not only affect Michael, but also ones that centre on the ship’s crew, new and old throughout. Special features include: commentary on select episodes; deleted and extended scenes; behind-the-scenes featurettes; two “short Treks”; gag reel; and promos. (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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