This week’s releases include: the tale of a vengeful killer; a political biopic; Woody Allen’s latest picture; a scary Christmas story; a survival narrative; a vampire-werewolf romance; and a family’s struggle worked out in MMA.

Colombiana on blu-rayColombiana (Blu-ray)
Cataleya (Zoe Saldana) is a young woman who has grown up to be an assassin after witnessing the murder of her parents as a child.  Turning herself into a professional killer and working for her uncle, she remains focused on her ultimate goal: to hunt down and get revenge on the mobster responsible for her parents’ death.

Special features include: a making-of feauturette; “Cateleya’s Journey”; “Assassins”; “Training a Killer”; and “Take the Ride.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Conquest on DVDThe Conquest (DVD)
This biopic examines the life and rise to power of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. As the French prepare to elect their new president, Sarkozy, already sure of his victory, stays home, sombre and dejected. All day, he tries to reach his then-wife Cecelia, who has fled. The next five years will see the rise of Sarkozy, dirty tricks, clashes in the wings and divorce.

There are no special features. (Entertainment One)

Midnight in Paris on blu-rayMidnight in Paris (Blu-ray)
This is the story of Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood screenwriter, and his beautiful fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams), whose experiences while on holiday in the City of Light will change their lives forever. It’s also about the young man’s great passion for an alluring city, both present and past, and the fantasies that tempt him to dream of a more authentic life.

Special features include: “Midnight in Cannes” featurette; and cast and crew photo galleries. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Saint on DVDSaint (Sint) – (Blu-ray)
Saint Nicholas is not the good-hearted children’s friend as people think he is. In reality, he is a cruel bloodthirsty bishop who, whenever there’s a full moon on December 5, will try to slaughter as many children as possible.

In addition to Christmas, many European countries also celebrate St. Nicholas Day. The most common elements of this tradition include polishing your shoes and placing them by the fireplace or door, and in the morning looking inside to discover a chocolate or some other treat if you were good, coal if you were naughty. This film changes the story, portraying Nicholas as an evil Archbishop come back from the dead with hideous minions. There hasn’t been a new, Christmas horror film in some time and this movie fills that void with relative satisfaction. The monstrous killer is undoubtedly intimidating and the bloody murders are fittingly gory. Moreover, the viewers’ first encounter with the resurrected villains is startling as the family’s children are suddenly sucked up through the house and the creatures prowl across the roofs, turning formerly sweet tales on their heads.

Special features include: a making-of featurette. (Entertainment One)

Straw Dogs on DVDStraw Dogs (DVD)
David and Amy Sumner (James Marsden and Kate Bosworth), a Hollywood screenwriter and his actress wife, return to her small hometown in the deep South to prepare the family home for sale after her father’s death. Once there, tensions build in their marriage and old conflicts re-emerge with the locals, including Amy’s ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård), leading to a violent confrontation.

This is not your typical home invasion film. Instead it’s about manhood and the definition of masculinity. Thus, casting a man who’s played a superhero as the “less manly” character is an interesting choice. In addition, it critiques the treatment of the mentally challenged. These are two tall orders for a single film and it’s somewhat overwhelming. The entire narrative feels awkward from the start, while the violence, particularly the rape, seems completely irrational. The acting from all those mentioned, as well as James Woods, is adequate; however it’s difficult to get on board with the story.

Special features include: commentary by writer/director Rod Lurie; “Courting Controversy: Remaking a Classic”; “The Dynamics of Power: The Ensemble”; “Inside the Siege: The Ultimate Showdown”; and “Creating the Sumner House: The Production Design.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Underworld Trilogy on blu-rayUnderworld Trilogy: The Essential Collection (Blu-ray)
Underworld: In the Underworld, vampires are a secret clan of modern aristocratic sophisticates whose mortal enemies are the lycans (werewolves), a shrewd gang of street thugs who prowl the city’s underbelly. No one knows the origin of their bitter blood feud, but the balance of power between them turns even bloodier when a beautiful young vampire warrior (Kate Beckinsale) and a newly-turned lycan with a mysterious past (Scott Speedman) fall in love.

Underworld: Evolution: The film traces the beginnings of the ancient feud between the two tribes as Selene (Beckinsale), the vampire heroine, and her love Michael (Speedman), the lycan hybrid, try to unlock the secrets of their bloodlines. The tale of action, intrigue and forbidden love takes them into the battle to end all wars as the immortals must finally face their retribution.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans: The prequel story traces the origins of the centuries-old blood feud between the aristocratic vampires known as Death Dealers and their onetime slaves, the lycans. In the Dark Ages, a young lycan named Lucian (Michael Sheen) emerges as a powerful leader who rallies the werewolves to rise up against Viktor (Bill Nighy), the cruel vampire king who has enslaved them. Lucian is joined by his secret lover, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), in his battle against the Death Dealer army and his struggle for lycan freedom.

As is often the case, the sequel is inferior to the original but both are worth the time. The first instalment is less bogged down by history and takes place in the present, which includes lots of action and conflict. The second has a lot of flashbacks, which while interesting slows down the pace somewhat, and doesn’t feel as well thought out. The final story was told in short in the first instalment by Lucien and Kraven (Shane Brolly). After seeing the 90-minute expansion, it’s not clear if it was even necessary. The major events had already been presented through blood memories. There’s a few interesting details regarding certain relationships, like that between Lucien and Raze (Kevin Grevioux), but there’s so many other ways they could have presented this information, like comics, animations, or a web series; granted, the set design and monster effects in the film are stunning.

Underworld special features include: commentary by director Len Wiseman, Beckinsale and Speedman; eight featuresttes; outtakes; storyboard comparison; and “Worms of Earth” music video by Finch.
Underworld: Evolution special features include: filmmaker commentary; six featurettes; and “Her Portrait in Black” music video by Atreyu.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans special features include: filmmaker commentary; three featurettes; “Behind the Castle Walls: Picture-in-Picture”; “Lycanthropes Around the World Interactive Map”; “Deathclub (Wes Borland/Renholder Remix)” music video by William Control Feat. Matt Skiba. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Warrior on blu-rayWarrior (DVD & Blu-ray combo pack)
Haunted by a tragic past, ex-Marine Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) returns home for the first time in fourteen years to enlist the help of his father (Nick Nolte) to train for the biggest event in mixed martial arts history. A former wrestling prodigy, Tommy blazes a path toward the championship while his brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), an ex-fighter-turned teacher, returns to the ring in a desperate bid to save his family from financial ruin. But when Brendan’s unlikely underdog rise sets him on a collision course with the unstoppable Tommy, the two brothers must finally confront each other and the forces that pulled them apart, facing off in the most intense winner-takes-all battle of their lives.

Capitalizing on the popularity of MMA (mixed martial arts), this film uses the octagon as a back drop for deep rooted family issues between a father and his sons. They could have been competitors in any sport, but this angle definitely attracted the already established, massive UFC audience. The story unfolds slowly (sometimes frustratingly so) and very much in parallel with little crossover in the first half of the picture. The second half is packed with emotional intensity as all the pent up anger comes to a head and the competition raises the level of intensity. Also, the inclusion of real-life MMA fighters provides an added edge to the matches.

Special features include: commentary by filmmakers and Edgerton; “Redemption: Bringing Warrior to Life” documentary; “The Diner” deleted scene with optional commentary; “Brother vs. Brother: Anatomy of the fight”; “Mixed martial arts strategy”; gag reel; and “Simply Believe: A Tribute to Charles ‘Mask’ Lewis, Jr.” (Alliance Films)

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