This week’s releases include: a blood-spattered massacre; a modern day film noir; a law-breaking legacy; an historical kangaroo court; the first appearance of Pai Mei; a tale about a dangerous friendship; an unsuccessful assassination; a little known comedy; the never-ending troubles of a motorcycle club; the second instalment of another vampire and werewolf tale; a traditional horror picture; and a moving drama about a pseudo-father/son relationship.

Bereavement on blu-rayBereavement (Blu-ray)
In 1989, six year-old Martin Bristol was kidnapped from his backyard. Graham Sutter, a psychotic recluse, kept Martin imprisoned in his derelict slaughterhouse, forcing him to witness and participate in unspeakable horrors. For five years, Martin’s whereabouts have remained a mystery, until a young girl is sent to live with her uncle. Her curiosity about the deserted slaughterhouse disturbs a hornet’s nest of evil and despair that once torn open, can never be closed.

This is a twisted, bloody, dark little flick. The murders are violent and gory, and fall under the category of torture porn. Moreover, the death count increases steadily and unexpectedly with some sudden and surprising kills. The conclusion is also somewhat unpredictable, but it can often be difficult to appreciate the ingenuity through the river of blood.

Special features include: commentary by writer/producer/director Steven Mena; deleted scenes; a making-of featurette; “First look on the set”; still montage; theatrical trailer; and TV spot. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

Blood Simple on blu-rayBlood Simple (Blu-ray)
When the owner of a backwoods bar (Dan Hedaya) hires a man to kill his cheating wife (Frances McDormand) and her boyfriend, he opens a door into the criminal world that he’ll never be able to shut. From the celebrated filmmaking team of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.

Special features include: commentary by Kenneth Loring of Forever Young Films; and the theatrical trailer. (Fox Home Entertainment)

The Borgias S1 on DVDThe Borgias – Season One (DVD)
Sex. Power. Murder. Amen. The Borgias is the story of history’s original family. Conspiring with his ruthless sons Cesare (François Arnaud) and Juan (David Oakes), and poisonously seductive daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), the charismatic Rodrigo Borgia’s (Jeremy Irons) reign as Pope Alexander VI embroils the Catholic Church – and all of Europe – in scandal.

Special features include: cast and crew interviews; behind-the-scenes; promo reels; bloopers; and trailers. (Phase 4 Films)

The Conspirator on blu-rayThe Conspirator (Blu-ray and DVD combo pack)
In the wake of Lincoln’s assassination, seven men and one woman are arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State. The lone woman charged, Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) owns a boarding house where Booth (Toby Kebbell) and the others met and planned the simultaneous attacks. Against the ominous back-drop of post-Civil War Washington, newly-minted lawyer, Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a 28-year-old Union war-hero, reluctantly agrees to defend Surratt before a military tribunal. Aiken realizes his client may be innocent, but she is being used as bait and hostage to capture the only conspirator to have escaped a massive manhunt – her own son, John (Johnny Simmons). As the nation turns against her, Surratt is forced to rely on Aiken to uncover the truth.

Robert Redford is an acclaimed dramatic actor, but on several occasions he’s proven to be an even better dramatic director. The Conspirator is obviously a period piece; however, it’s also a thrilling courtroom drama. This film’s cast is exceptional. McAvoy’s American accent is flawless as is his resolve in the face of social persecution and staunch discrimination, which required a strong character. Wright’s performance is incredibly reserved as her character is resigned to her fate, even if it means dying to protect her son. Wood is excellent as she is forced to choose between saving her mother or brother.

Special features not available. (Alliance Films)

Executioners from Shaolin on DVDExecutioners from Shaolin (DVD)
The film that made director Liu Chia Liang famous is the first to feature the infamous white-haired priest Pai Mei who would later appear in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2. To avenge his teacher, a student of Shaolin and then his son must use the Tiger and Crane style to defeat the evil white-haired priest.

Special features not available. (Alliance Films)

In a Better World on blu-rayIn a Better World (Blu-ray and DVD combo pack)
Anton is a doctor who commutes between his home in an idyllic town in Denmark, and his work at an African refugee camp.  In these two very different worlds, he and his family are faced with conflicts that lead them to difficult choices between revenge and forgiveness.

Special features include: interview with director Susanne Bier. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Martial Arts of Shaolin on DVDMartial Arts of Shaolin (DVD)
Zhi Ming (Jet Li) weasels out of the north Shaolin temple to assassinate a despotic ruler at the ruler’s extravagant public birthday celebration. Two other men from the south Shaolin temple also set out to assassinate the ruler, but all three fail and are chased by soldiers. Meanwhile, one of the southerners turns out to be a cross-dressed woman, who is also discovered to wear a footbell to match Zhi Ming’s, meaning they are destined to be married.

Special features not available. (Alliance Films)

Running Wilde S1 on DVDRunning Wilde – Season One (DVD)
Steven Wilde (Will Arnett) is a filthy-rich, immature playboy trying desperately to win (or buy) the heart of his childhood sweetheart, Emmy Kadubic (Keri Russell), the über-liberal humanitarian who got away.

There are no special features. (Maple Pictures Home Entertainment)

Sons of Anarchy S3 on blu-raySons of Anarchy – Season Three (Blu-ray)
Chaos and confusion reign after Jax’s (Charlie Hunnam) infant son is kidnapped and Gemma (Katey Sagal) is framed for murder.  When Abel’s trail leads SAMCRO to Belfast, Ireland, secrets are revealed and the bonds of brotherhood are shattered. Jax is left reeling with more questions than answers as he struggles with the legacy of his father, the future of the club, and the fate of his family.

Special features include: commentaries with cast and creators; deleted scenes; extended episodes; “Custom bike build”; “Directing the season finale with Kurt Sutter”; writer’s roundtable; season three to four story-bridge; gag reel; and Fox Movie Channel at the season three premiere. (Fox Home Entertainment)

The Vampire Diaries on blu-rayThe Vampire Diaries – The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)
This season Elena (Nina Dobrev), Stefan (Paul Wesley), Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and the other residents of Mystic Falls are joined by sinister new blood. Released from the tomb, Katherine unleashes her personal brand of evil in a diabolical plot. The Originals – the world’s oldest and most dangerous vampires – hunt for Elena, who discovers she has a terrifying connection to their world. And now bloodsuckers aren’t the only monsters in town. On moonlit nights, werewolves roam in search of victims including vampires, who can succumb to a single werewolf bite.

The sophomore season introduced new villains and more complicated storylines. The complex relationship between Elena and Damon continued to heat up, while Stefan seesawed between emotional and behavioural extremities. Elena’s brother, Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen), really matured and took on a greater role in the narrative and her BFF Bonnie (Katerina Graham) grew stronger and more attuned to her powers. It’s difficult to determine the direction of the upcoming season or if it will maintain its upward momentum, but only time will tell.

Special feature include: commentary on “Masquerade” by executive producers Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec; “The Vampire Diaries: Pages of the Wolf” three featurettes: “The myth and the mystery,” “Building the beasts,” and “Howling at the moon”; “Her own worst enemy… Elena, Katherine and Nina!” the challenge of playing two roles; “The perfect love triangle: Vampires, werewolves, witches,” find out who’s nibbling on whom; unaired scenes; and gag reel. (Warner Home Entertainment)

The Ward on blu-rayThe Ward (Blu-ray and DVD combo pack)
When an old farmhouse is set ablaze by Kristen (Amber Heard), a distraught young woman, she is taken by police to the North Bend Psychiatric Hospital. She awakens in a special ward with four similarly unbalanced and wayward girls: Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), a flirty and sass-talking know it all; Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), a sensitive and talented artist who tries to make her feel welcome; Emily (Mamie Gummer), a reckless but playful outcast; and Zoey (Laura-Leigh), who hides behind a childlike persona and her beloved stuffed bunny. Kirsten’s therapist, Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris), tries to uncover the root cause of her breakdown, but despite his calm and understanding manner, she resists any attempts at help and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the hospital is not the sanctuary it’s supposed to be. When the ward is locked down at night, Kristen notices a shadowy phantom roaming the halls. Persistent and inquisitive, she digs for information about former patients and soon becomes convinced that no one ever leaves the ward alive.

The throwbacks to ’80s horror are numerous, even if they are not representative of director John Carpenter’s signature style. Most notably, no CGI is used to create the monster. Adopting the Val Lewton approach, all the effects are created practically. Unfortunately, the trade-off is the cheesy look of the creature. Reverting to an old school style of horror also translates to an old school style of scare. This means a lot of “unexpected” appearances of the monster, as well as a lot of fruitless anticipation for its arrival. Heard, who also starred in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, is credible as the scared, confused young woman. She cries, shrieks and runs as well as any scream queen.

Special features include: commentary by director John Carpenter and Jared Harris; and theatrical trailer. (Alliance Films)

Win WIn on blu-rayWin Win (Blu-ray)
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer and high-school wrestling coach. When he comes across a teenage runaway (Alex Shaffer) who also happens to be a champion wrestler, Mike’s luck turns around in spectacular fashion. But his win-win situation soon becomes more complicated than he ever imagined when the boy’s family affairs come into play.

This is a wonderful drama in which both Giamatti and Shaffer shine in their respective roles. Rather than be overshadowed, the young actor displays a strong personality, an intense array of emotions and some adept wrestling abilities. The remaining cast includes Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young and Melanie Lynskey, all of whom turn in excellent supporting performances.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “Tom McCarthy and Joe Tiboni discuss Win Win”; “David Thompson at Sundance 2011”; “In Conversation with Tom McCarthy and Paul Giamatti at Sundance 2011”; “Family”; and “Think You Can Wait” music video by The National. (Fox Home Entertainment)

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