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Review: This week’s releases include mistakes on all sides

This week’s releases include an animated extension; horror story gone awry; adult actor gone home; and more.

A scene from 'The Boy Behind the Door' courtesy of RLJE Films
A scene from 'The Boy Behind the Door' courtesy of RLJE Films

Originally posted March 18, 2022

This week’s releases include an animated series extended; a horror story gone awry; an adult actor gone home; a forbidden romance; a deadly conspiracy theory; a sci-fi love story; an early slasher film; and several pictures from the library.

Adventure Time: Distant Lands on Blu-ray
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Adventure Time: Distant Lands (Blu-ray)

BMO — follows the lovable little robot from Adventure Time. When there’s a deadly space emergency in the farthest reaches of the galaxy, there’s only one hero to call, and it’s probably not BMO. Except that this time, it is!
Obsidian — features Marceline and Princess Bubblegum as they journey to the imposing, beautiful Glass Kingdom — and deep into their tumultuous past — to prevent an earthshaking catastrophe.
Together Again — brings best buds Finn and Jake together again to rediscover their brotherly bond and embark on the most important adventure of their lives.
Wizard City — follows Peppermint Butler, starting over at the beginning, as just another inexperienced Wizard School student. When mysterious events at the campus cast suspicion on Pep and his checkered past, can he master the mystic arts in time to prove his innocence?

The original Adventure Time series ran for 10 seasons, ending in 2018. But the characters were given a second-wind via a limited series of four hour-long episodes for HBO Max, airing between June 2020 and September 2021. Each episode focuses on different characters and takes audiences deeper into their independent storylines. BMO’s chapter is especially fun as the small computer’s adventure requires them to take an atypical position of prominence in the story and stop underestimating their ability to achieve things. The narrative featuring Marceline and Princess Bubblegum is very exciting as it allows audiences a further glimpse of the romantic relationship they started at the end of the series, while also digging deep and delivering a very emotional exploration of love, trauma and building a healthy relationship. In the meantime, even though Finn and Jake’s tale occurs in the beyond, it still feels like an extension of their previous adventures with a slightly darker, more mature tone. The final episode follows a less prominent character in Peppermint Butler, but is a fun story about finding one’s place.

There are no special features. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

The Boy Behind the Door on Blu-ray
RLJE Films

The Boy Behind the Door (Blu-ray)

A night of unimaginable terror awaits twelve-year-old Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and his best friend, Kevin (Ezra Dewey), when they are abducted on their way home from school. Managing to escape his confines, Bobby navigates the dark halls, praying his presence goes unnoticed as he avoids his captor at every turn. Even worse is the arrival of another stranger, whose mysterious arrangement with the kidnapper spells certain doom for Kevin. With no means of calling for help and miles of dark country in every direction, Bobby embarks on a rescue mission, determined to get himself and Kevin out alive… or die trying.

This is certainly one of the scariest situations anyone — particularly children — can find themselves in: kidnapped, isolated and at the mercy of their captors. Kevin is restrained in one of the house’s many rooms and Bobby has no idea how to free his best friend so they can escape together. So, instead, Bobby wanders the house, finding a shocking number of keys and evading their kidnapper. However, he makes so many nonsensical (and in some cases impossible) wrong turns to keep the narrative going, it’s very frustrating to watch. The final act is somewhat better as their forced into more confrontations with less room for actions that go against common sense. Then it goes for the heartfelt conclusion and loses all that good will again.

Special features include: music video; and bloopers. (RLJE Films)

Dancing Pirate on Blu-ray
Film Detect

Dancing Pirate [Special Edition] (Blu-ray)

A dance teacher from Boston (Charles Collins) is tricked into joining a band of pirates, which leads to him being fitted for a noose in California. He catches a break when the mayor’s daughter demands the hanging be postponed until he teaches her to waltz, but his problems are only beginning.

Notably, this film was presented as the first dancing musical entirely in Technicolor, which really makes some of the scenes pop with the women’s colourful dresses and creates extra depth, particularly in the final act. Released in 1936, it was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction. Even though Collins wasn’t the big name they’d hoped to attach to the production, the Broadway actor is a talented performer who excels in the dance and fight sequences with his smooth, seemingly effortless movements. There’s also some comedy built into the narrative, which plays well as the instructor is often bumbling through various situations.

Special features include: commentary and insert essay by author Jennifer Churchill; “Glorious Pioneers: The Birth of Technicolor”; and “Ambushed by Mediocrity: Remembering the Dancing Pirate.” (Film Detect)

Deadly Games on Blu-ray
Arrow Video

Deadly Games (Blu-ray)

A masked maniac with a penchant for a horror-themed board game is playing his own twisted game with the women of a small American town. Each time the dice is rolled, another victim meets a grisly end. Returning home to mourn the death of her murdered sister, Keegan (Jo Ann Harris) befriends local cop Roger (Sam Groom) and oddball cinema projectionist Billy (Steve Railsback) — but soon finds herself in the killer’s sights.

The correlation between the game and the murders is rather loose since the killings aren’t made to mimic monstrous deaths or the like. It’s also not that difficult to determine the identity of the killer, though the ending is still very ambiguous. Even though this was an early slasher movie, many of the genre’s signatures are present as screaming women are chased through the night before being brutally murdered by the assailant. However, this film does give a bit more attention to developing the female characters and their relationships in the movie, with a whole montage dedicated to an unexpected friendship. Unfortunately, the uncertainty around the killer’s motivations and the undefined conclusion inhibits a satisfying viewing experience.

Special features include: commentary with The Hysteria Continues; “Sooty’s a Sh*t,” an interview with actor Jere Rae-Mansfield; “Practical Magic,” an interview with special effects and stunt co-ordinator John Eggett; and theatrical trailer. (Arrow Video)

Dream a Little Dream on Blu-ray
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Dream a Little Dream [Collector’s Series] (Blu-ray & Digital copy)

Bobby (Corey Feldman) has everything a young guy should: a good buddy (Corey Haim), a girlfriend (Lala Sloatman) and parents who love him. When the older couple (Jason Robards and Piper Laurie) down the street try a transcendental experiment to extend their lives, they quite literally become trapped in two teen’s bodies.

This is a strange play on the Freaky Friday narrative, in which an unusual accident transfers the consciousnesses of the elderly couple into two unsuspecting teens — but only one is aware of their predicament. Being possessed by an older gentleman makes Bobby a much better person as he’s more mindful of the people around him, has more life experience, and is better suited to deal with school and its bullies. Oddly, those closest to him don’t take much notice of the transformation, chalking it up to the bump on the head. On the other hand, the older gentleman’s friend (Harry Dean Stanton) is far more inclined to believe the phenomenon occurred and lend his support in reversing it. The film also includes an unusual dance number and a very heartfelt speech in an attempt to prevent an irreversible act of violence.

Special features include: commentary with film historian Jarret Gahan; “Young at Heart,” an interview with actor Corey Feldman; “When Lightning Strikes,” an interview with executive producer Lawrence Kasanoff; still gallery; TV spots; and theatrical trailers. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

Ghost Riders on Blu-ray
MVD Video

Ghost Riders (Blu-ray)

On a dark and haunting night, all that is visible by the campfire light is the breath of vicious lawmen. The local preacher and townspeople gather on a lonesome prairie as the lawless career of desperado Frank Clements (Mike Ammons) is about to end. Just as the hangman’s noose tightens around his neck, the most feared outlaw of 1888 shouts a curse of revenge on the town preacher — a curse which will haunt the preacher’s family through generations. One hundred years later, unsuspecting of the events in 1888, the town is prospering. Frank Clements and his gang return from hell to seek revenge against the preacher’s grandson and his family. The fight against the phantoms from the past proves futile and they become unwilling victims of bloodthirsty outlaws. Weapons are defenseless against the phantom cowboys — you can’t kill what’s already dead!

This Western ghost story could’ve been better than it is had filmmakers opted to better establish the original curse and its effects over the century. Instead, the curse is buried in the film’s opening and audiences are left to connect the dots when the first unrelated victims are shot by an out-of-place posse. From then on, it’s an endless chase through the woods and surrounding areas as the undying cowboys repeatedly fail to hit their targets. The characters all seem a bit too superficial and their relationships are only used as devices to push a certain aspect of the narrative. It’s an interesting concept, but the execution (pun intended) doesn’t live up to its potential.

Special features include: commentary with director of photography / producer Thomas L. Calloway, writer/producer James Desmarais and moderator Steve Latshaw; “Bringing Out the Ghosts: The Making of Ghost Riders”; “Low Budget Films: On the Set of Ghost Riders”; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (MVD Video)

Legendary Weapons of China on Blu-ray
88 Films

Legendary Weapons of China (Blu-ray)

When the former member of a failing magical kung fu order threatens to destroy the remaining group’s reputation through his loud mouth insults and defamatory behaviour, an elite band of killers is dispatched to silence him forever.

Released in 1982, the wuxia-style film was a late addition to martial arts cinema, but it’s still an impressive, entertaining and self-aware entry. The Shaw Brothers production uses every weapon imaginable from shurikens and rope darts to swords and spears. The final act is a series of one-on-one fights that showcase different weapons, which are actually named on screen so audiences know what the combatants are using in a given moment. The film is also surprisingly comedic with opponents pretending to be fighting cats, simulating water falling and engaging in battles for entertainment that are actually jabs at some earlier kung fu films. However, the most surprising component is the use of something akin to voodoo to control people using small dolls — which is quite a feat for the actors who must adjust their movements so they’re more puppet-like.

Special features include: commentary with Asian cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema; commentary with Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng and actor/martial artist Michael Worth; commentary with Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng; “Eighteen Weapons — David West on Legendary Weapons of China”; “Gordon At Shaw,” an interview with actor Gordon Lui by Frédéric Ambroisine; “Titus At Shaw,” an interview with producer Titus Ho by Frédéric Ambroisine; and original trailer. (88 Films)

Liar's Moon on Blu-ray
MVD Rewind Collection

Liar’s Moon (Blu-ray)

Jack Duncan (Matt Dillon) is an athletic, hardworking boy from the small town of Noble, Texas. Jack is happy just enjoying himself with the local boys, until he meets Ginny Peterson (Cindy Fisher), the town’s wealthiest young lady. Despite their obviously different backgrounds, Jack and Ginny fall desperately in love. Even though their parents have forbidden them to meet, Jack and Ginny sneak out and elope, hoping to find happiness far from their hometown. But theirs is a love that falls prey to the sins of their elders — as the intrigue of two families reaches out an angry hand to its innocent victim in this touching, tragic story of youth, love and hope.

This is a very typical tale of a forbidden romance. The rich girl and the poor boy fall in love in spite of her parents’ warnings and all attempts to keep them apart. However, rather than trying to convince anyone of their connection or sneaking around until they’re old enough to make their own decisions, they fully commit to their defiance, running away, getting married and waiting until their 18th birthdays to return home. Of course, there’s one more complication that some viewers may guess before it’s revealed, which sends the pair down a very dangerous path. The parallels to Romeo and Juliet are clear, though some of the details are updated for a more modern story. The alternate ending in the bonus features goes in the opposite direction, though both can be considered valid options and viewers may have varying preferences.

Special features include: alternate ending; making-of featurette; “The Music of Liar’s Moon”; and theatrical trailer. (MVD Rewind Collection)

Red Rocket on Blu-ray
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Red Rocket (Blu-ray & Digital)

Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) is back home in small-town Texas after burning bridges and flaming out all over Los Angeles. A hustler, operator, and charismatic con man, Mikey quickly learns that no one wants him back. When he meets a teenager working at the local donut shop, he sees his ticket back to the big time.

Writer/director Simon Baker has a penchant for characters that society forgets and/or ignores. Accordingly, this film centres on a washed-up adult actor who returns to his hometown broke and bruised. Conning his way into a house then moving from the couch to the bedroom, Mikey demonstrates even those who know his game can’t resist it. He quickly charms his way all across town, alienating employers, finding illicit work that better suits his lifestyle and mesmerizing a young beauty. However, it’s not long before the likeable guy everyone loves to hate becomes the predatory chauvinist audiences have reason to dislike. Rex is a gem of an actor who’s never really had a leading role and he does an excellent job here, in spite of his character’s flaws, including going all in for an impromptu nude jog.

Special features include: commentary with writer-director Sean Baker, cinematographer Drew Daniels, and actor Simon Rex; commentary with film critic Kat Ellinger; and making-of featurette. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

Shooter on 4K
Paramount Home Entertainment

Shooter steelbook (4K Ultra HD & Digital copy)

Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg), a former Marine Corps sniper, leaves the military after a mission goes bad. After he is reluctantly pressed back into service, Swagger is double-crossed again. With two bullets in him and the subject of a nationwide manhunt, Swagger begins his revenge, which will take down the most powerful people in the country.

As far as government conspiracies go, you can’t get much better than a public assassination, a framing, evil high-ranking officials and a cover-up of a ghastly foreign crime. Swagger is an expert marksman and competent soldier, so pinning the crime on his corpse doesn’t really go as they planned. Instead, he patches himself up, evades capture and works on uncovering the details of what secret was worth killing him over. Luckily, he’s aided by a rookie FBI agent (Michael Peña), who followed too many breadcrumbs, placing a target on his own back. Wahlberg has the emotion-free Marine down pact, while Peña and Kate Mara provide the fear and anxiety the situation warrants. There’s a number of expertly crafted gunfight sequences and explosions, and the bonus features outline the gun training the actors went through to support the authenticity of their performances.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “Survival of the Fittest: The Making of Shooter”; and “Independence Hall.” (Paramount Home Entertainment)

The Sword and the Sorcerer on 4K
Scream Factory

The Sword and the Sorcerer [Collector’s Edition] (4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray)

Meet Talon (Lee Horsley), a daring mercenary who conquers castles and dungeons alike with his lethal three-bladed sword. But when Talon learns that he is the prince of a kingdom controlled by an evil sorcerer, he is thrust into the wildest fight of his life. Can Talon rescue the beautiful princess and slay the warlock, or will he fall prey to the black magic of medieval mayhem?

This is a classic fantasy film in which a power hungry man recruits supernatural forces to attain his goals. There are multiple sword fights as Talon and others take up arms to defeat the evil leader. However, Talon’s three-bladed sword proves most impressive and rather original as it repeatedly transforms during his final battle. Unlike many other similar films released in the ‘80s, this one is somewhat crude as Talon agrees to lascivious terms to come to the kingdom’s aid and gallant soldiers willing to fight to the deaths must first be torn from the arms of women in a brothel. Still, it fits the bill, featuring a battle of good vs. evil, a kidnapped princess and a reluctant hero.

Special features include: commentary with director Albert Pyun; “Tales of the Ancient Empire,” an interview with director Albert Pyun; “A Princess’ Tale,” an interview with actress Kathleen Beller; “Mightier Than the Sword,” an interview with co-writer/co-producer John Stuckmeyer; “Master of the Blade,” an interview with editor Marshall Harvey; “The Specialist and the Effects,” an interview with special makeup effects artist Allan Apone; “Brothers in Arms,” an interview with special effects artists the Chiodo Brothers: Charles, Edward and Stephen; “Dedicated to Jack Tyree, Stuntman,” the cast and crew remember stuntman Jack Tyree; “Trailers from Hell”; still gallery; TV spot; and theatrical trailers. (Scream Factory)

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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