This week’s releases include: a depression-era series; an unusual love story; a film standard; a tired horror story; a religious awakening; a deadly family vacation; a game of cat and mouse; an historical family undone; a sports legend; a penguin adventure; a cop drama; Shakespeare’s last play on screen; and a double standard exemplified.

Boardwalk Empire – The Complete First Season on blu-rayBoardwalk Empire – The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Atlantic City, 1920. It is the eve of Prohibition and county treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi), is looking to cash in. As the undisputed “Boss” of Atlantic City, Nucky leads a double life as a politician and bootlegger; Prohibition may have outlawed alcohol, but in Nucky’s world it has opened up highly lucrative opportunities for gangsters and rumrunners looking to provide “liquid gold” for a thirsty nation.

Nucky Thompson is a complex, but engrossing character who doesn’t always act as you’d expect. His business and personal lives become vastly separate by the end of the season as he attempts to be a respectable family man in public while remaining crooked on the side. Kelly Macdonald portrays a walking contradiction decidedly willing to look the other way to ensure the best for her young children. Margaret Schroeder begins the season very quietly, having been beaten into submission by her abusive husband. But once she regains her strength, she takes back control of her path in life – even if she chooses a dangerous one to follow. The aesthetic is outstanding with authentic period garb from outerwear to underwear: suits and hats for the men, and dresses and undergarments that indicate social and financial status for the women.

Special features include: commentaries with cast and crew; an interactive, picture-in-picture experience on all 12 episodes,; a making-of featurette with cast and crew interviews; “Creating the boardwalk,” exploring the creation of the set; “Character dossier,” a comprehensive character guide; “Atlantic City: The original Sin City,” a 30-minute documentary about the culture and climate during the ‘20s; “Speakeasy tour,” and a tour with cast members of some of the famed speakeasies in Chicago and New York. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group)

Brighton Rock on DVDBrighton Rock (DVD)
Adapted from Graham Greene’s classic 1939 novel of the same name, the story charts the headlong fall of Pinkie (Sam Riley), a young man with a religious death wish. At the heart of the story is the anti-hero’s relationship with Rose (Andrea Riseborough) – an apparently innocent young waitress who stumbles on evidence linking Pinkie and his gang to a revenge killing that Pinkie committed. After the murder, Pinkie seduces Rose, first in an effort to find out how much she knows and latterly to ensure she will not talk to the police.

This is an incredibly dark, untraditional love story. The gloomy tale is often vicious in its brute honesty and cruel relationships. Riley’s relentless anger is sometimes frightening, but it also becomes somewhat boring after a while as he passively lashes out at Rose. Rose’s naivety is pathetic in a way that makes you want to shake her more than protect her. Their relationship is poisonous to both of them, but Pinkie borders on sociopath in his treatment of Rose. The conclusion is not unexpected, but somewhat satisfying – particularly the film’s final moment.

Special features include: interviews; a behind-the-scenes footage; an untitled featurette; and the theatrical trailer. (Alliance Films)

Citizen Kane on blu-rayCitizen Kane (Blu-ray)
After his death, the life of Charles Foster Kane – newspaper magnate and all-round larger-than-life American – is told from the perspective of those who knew him. A newspaper reporter is interviewing those in Kane’s life hoping to learn the meaning of Kane’s last word, Rosebud. Kane was sent to a boarding school at a young age after his mother struck it rich thanks to a mining claim that was signed over to her in lieu of rent. He came into his vast fortune at the age of 25 and promptly bought a newspaper. Eventually he died old and alone, whispering the word “Rosebud.”

Rosebud. That will forever be this film’s legacy. People who have never seen the film still recognize the reference as it’s become ingrained in our culture: the snow globe crashing to the floor with his dying breath. It is Orson Welles’ masterpiece and a must see for any film buff or culture seeker. All of the director’s signature marks are utilized to their fullest extent, from the long take to depth of field to a variety of tilts and angles. The scene in his humble home in which audiences view the exterior through a window from within a second room is masterfully executed and studied for its technique and vision.

Special features include: commentary by Roger Ebert; commentary by Peter Bogdanovich; interviews with Ruth Warrick and Robert Wise; premiere newsreel; still gallery; The Battle Over Citizen Kane; and 48-page film book. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group)

Hidden on DVDHidden (DVD)
When Brian Karter’s mother dies, he is surprised to learn that he has inherited The Sanctuary, home to her controversial experimental addiction treatment centre. Having previously believed that the building burned to the ground years ago, Brian travels there with a group of friends and meets Haley, a mysterious friend of his mother, who acts as their guide through the impressive, monastery-like building. During their tour it becomes clear that something sinister lies beneath the surface. Despite their misgivings, they follow a secret passageway underground and come across strange and unsettling discoveries that trigger Brian’s disturbing memories of his mother’s research. Ultimately, they are confronted by her terrible secret: Brian’s mother built a revolutionary machine that cured people of their addictions; but, as a side effect, those addictions materialized in the form of mutant children hungry for human flesh.

Asylums and hospitals are common locations for horror movies because they are the perfect hiding places for deranged ambition and those without conscience. Doctors are provided with an endless supply of human test subjects and those that follow are tormented by the evil that’s left behind. Hidden is one of these pictures, but it’s not a very good one.

There are no special features. (Entertainment One)

Higher Ground on blu-rayHigher Ground (DVD)
Pregnant, married and awkward at eighteen years old, Corrine Miller (Vera Farmiga) grows more and more interested in Jesus, eventually giving herself over to a radical New Testament church. Amidst her community of self-described “Jesus Freaks,” Corrine’s daily life consists of hours of Bible study, alternative family practices and bracing for the oncoming Rapture. It’s only when her marriage begins to unravel that Corrine dares to question the religious dogma she has embraced her entire life.

Special features include: commentary by Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard and Renn Hawkey; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and L.A. Film Festival Q&A. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Hills Have Eyes on blu-rayThe Hills Have Eyes (Blu-ray)
On the way to California, a family has the misfortune to have their car break down in an area closed to the public, and inhabited by violent savages ready to attack.

Wes Craven followed up his cult hit, The Last House on the Left, with a terrifying tale of mutant cannibalism in the American desert. It was once again unapologetic for the gruesome violence it portrayed, featuring disturbing rapes by frightening monsters and torturous murders. Commenting on the demise of the nuclear family, Craven tears them apart by a far from traditional brood. In addition, the gas shortage, and the contrast of the haves and have-nots could not be plainer contributors to the violence that occurs. Craven proves he is fearless when it comes to screen images, which is a trait that would inform the rest of his career – though it would become slightly less grotesque in his later years.

Special features include: “Looking Back at The Hills Have Eyes”; “The Directors: The Film of Wes Craven”; restoration demo; an alternate ending; still galleries; Wes Craven biography; trailers; and DVD-Rom features. (Entertainment One)

Killer Elite on blu-rayKiller Elite (Blu-ray & DVD combo pack)
Based on a shocking true story, it pits two of the world’s most elite operatives – Danny, an ex-special ops agent (Jason Statham) and Hunter, his longtime mentor (Robert De Niro) – against the cunning leader of a secret military society (Clive Owen). Covering the globe from Australia to Paris, London and the Middle East, Danny and Hunter are plunged into a highly dangerous game of cat and mouse – where the predators become the prey.

Heat was a massive buzz film because it was the first time two of Hollywood’s biggest heavyweights – Al Pacino and Robert De Niro – would share the screen. Killer Elite had the same sort of vibe. It brought together two of England’s hottest exports for more reason than one: Statham and Owen. They similarly only share a minimal number of scenes, but do so to much less dramatic success. The film lacks the fast-paced action that their union silently promised, though they physically face off in an underwhelming altercation. On the other hand, when considered individually, they are adequate as adversaries and assassins. But the script is somewhat lacking in tension and action.

Special features include: interviews and deleted scenes. (Entertainment One)

The Magnificent Ambersons on DVDThe Magnificent Ambersons (DVD)
Based on a novel by Booth Tarkington, the drama begins in the 1870s when the Amberson family is at the height of its wealth and prestige. But the day arrives when all the Ambersons are stunned by the truth of their financial ruin.

This is Orson Welles’ other masterpiece considered by many to be equal to Citizen Kane. The descriptive, omnipotent narrative guides audiences through the uncomplicated story. Nonetheless, his authoritative voice charmingly complements the tale. Following George Amberson from his bad-mannered childhood to his impolite adulthood to his insignificant death is quite absorbing.

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

Moneyball on blu-rayMoneyball (Blu-ray)
A real-life story based on Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane who defied conventional wisdom and even his own scouts by fielding a baseball team of castoffs who went on to enjoy one of the most unlikely winning streaks in the history of professional sports.

Special features include: deleted scenes; Blooper with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill; “Billy Beane: Re-Inventing the Game”; “Moneyball: Playing The Game”; “Drafting The Team”; “Adapting Moneyball”; and exclusive MLB 12 The Show preview trailer. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Penguins of Madagascar: Operation Blowhole on DVDThe Penguins of Madagascar: Operation Blowhole (DVD)
In this three-part saga, Skipper and the Penguins face off against their sinister nemesis, Dr. Blowhole, and his diabolical schemes with six original musical numbers. It’s a Bond spoof of Penguins proportions!

For much of the audience, the most enjoyable characters in the Madagascar films were the group of secret agent penguins and the lemur king, Julien, who each made brief but memorable appearances. Fans of these off beat mammals can now delight in three spin-off episodes starring the quirky personalities with the addition of the villainous dolphin, Dr. Blowhole. Skipper’s rotating door of imaginary guides to lead him out of his amnesia is amusing, while the teaming of Julien and Blowhole is consistently hilarious. The 22-minute episodes are laugh-out-loud funny and sure to be a hit with audiences of all ages.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Sinners and Saints on DVDSinners and Saints (DVD)
Location: New Orleans, post-Katrina. As the leader of an elite “Street Crimes” task force squad, New Orleans Detective Sean Reilly (Johnny Strong) is trying to cope with the death of his young son and the abandonment of his wife. But when a routine warrant “serve” results in an ambush and the vicious murder of his partner, this may be the last straw that finally sends Sean over the edge. Re-assigned by his mentor, Captain Trahan (Tom Berenger), Sean and Det. Will Ganz (Kevin Phillips) investigate a baffling gangland homicide. As the clues stack up, Sean and Will realize that Colin (Sean Patrick Flanery), one of Sean’s childhood friends and a security contractor just back from the Middle East, seems to be at the centre of their case.

Special features not available. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

The Tempest on blu-rayThe Tempest (Blu-ray & DVD combo pack)
Exiled to a magical island, the sorceress Prospera (Helen Mirren) conjures up a storm that shipwrecks her enemies and then unleashes her powers for revenge. The Tempest, with its innovative twist, is a supernatural film filled with Shakespearean villains, lovers and fools that will leave you spellbound.

This is Shakespeare’s final play. It combines elements of Romeo and Juliet, Richard III and A Midsummer’s Night Dream to a dramatic and often whimsical effect. Though much more can be achieved on film than stage, part of the beauty of the bard’s stories is their simplicity; as a result, some filmmakers make things more complex than is necessary. Director Julie Taymor walks a fine line here, though she is sometimes led astray into making a scene obscure. Mirren’s Prospera was originally Prospero and intended for a man. However, the transference to a woman seems natural in her sorcery and motherly instincts. The majority of the dialogue remains unchanged, though a song is borrowed (and given new meaning) from Twelfth Night. The single location of a private Hawaiian island provides so much contrast, yet remains fluid and connected as the rocky landscape gives way to red sand then to forests and sea. Russell Brand is another highlight, providing seamless comedy throughout the picture.

Special features include: commentary by director Taymor; “Annotated Shakespeare,” audio commentary by Shakespeare experts Virginia Vaughan and Jonathan Bate; “O Mistress Mine” music video; Russell Brand rehearsal riff; and “Raising The Tempest” featurette. (Alliance Films)

What’s Your Number? on blu-rayWhat’s Your Number? (DVD)
After reading a magazine article that insists if a woman has slept with at least 20 people that they have already missed Mr. Right, marketing executive Ally Darling (Anna Faris) begins to panic, thinking that she will be alone forever. With the help of her hunky new neighbor (Chris Evans), Ally starts tracking down all her ex-boyfriends, hoping to find her real true love while she helps him escape his latest fling. Hilarious hijinks and adventure ensues as Ally goes on her wild search for the best “ex” of her life, only to find what she is looking has been right in front of her all along.

The title refers to a question many fear to be asked in a relationship. But this movie manages to make the whole dreaded idea fun with a great cast and a new angle. The results are flashbacks of horrible relationships and a string of men she should be happy to be rid of now. Even the apparent exceptions turn out to be the wrong guy. Faris is an absolute delight in this movie. She’s been slowly carving out a position as one of the funniest women in Hollywood and this film seals the deal. She takes what may have otherwise been a mediocre rom-com and makes it a must-see comedy. Evans’ role is somewhat muted next to Faris, but he complements her well. The only problem in the film occurs in the final minutes. The narrative goes to great lengths to illustrate the double standard when it comes to men’s and women’s “numbers.” Then it suddenly yanks the rug out from under the whole thing with one entirely unnecessary phone call that reaffirms the initial misnomer it set out disprove. Almost ruins the entire movie.

Special features include: extended cut of movie; extended flashback dates and deleted scenes; and gag reel. (Fox Home Entertainment)

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