This week’s releases include: more quirky CIA-alien adventures; a chilling end of the world thriller; a near-silent biopic; a peculiar feel-good story; an action-packed spy movie; and an intimate look at addiction.

American Dad! Volume 7 on DVDAmerican Dad! – Volume 7 (DVD)
From the disturbed comic minds of Mike Barker, Matt Weitzman, and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, comes the always insane adventures of CIA operative Stan Smith and his wonderfully twisted family. In the 100th episode, Hayley elopes with Jeff! Other episodes include Stan on jury duty, Steve walking in on his amorous parents, Roger dating Steve’s best friend, and yet another American Dad Christmas classic. Plus, there are serial killers, Turkish amphetamines, and evil clones.

Just the second episode of the seventh season, “Son of Stan: Part 2,” is already one of the most memorable when Stan clones Steve so he and Francine can compare their parenting styles and see who raises the better son. The holidays are marked by shooting Santa Claus, who returns for revenge. Principal Lewis’ brand of marriage counseling is frightening, though the episode still ends amusingly. And Stan and Francine’s version of The War of the Roses is very entertaining.

Special features not available. (Fox Home Entertainment)

The Divide on Blu-rayThe Divide (DVD & Blu-ray combo pack)
In this graphic, post-apocalyptic movie, nine strangers escape a nuclear attack by hiding out in their building’s basement. Trapped for days underground with no hope for rescue, and only unspeakable horrors awaiting them outside, the group begins to descend into madness, each turning on one another with physical and psychological torment. As supplies dwindle, tensions flare, and they grow increasingly unhinged by their close quarters and hopelessness, each act against one another becomes more depraved than the previous. While everyone in the bunker allows themselves to lose their humanity, one survivor holds onto a thin chance for escape even with no promise of salvation on the outside.

Things are immediately tense in the confined, underground shelter and are only made more so by disagreements within the groups. With time and despair, civility erodes and people become animals. Eventually, two of the survivors brutalize their way to positions of authority over the remaining “prisoners.” However, in the end, they are all stuck and they are all, in one way or another, alone.

Director Xavier Gens is skilled at capturing the darkest corners of humanity and guiding actors to display the murky underbellies of civilization. Shooting in chronological order and mimicking the food restrictions of the narrative off camera add an unmistakable reality to the performances. It’s an excellent end of the world picture with an ending as unpredictable as the actions of its characters.

Special features include: commentary by director Xavier Gens and actors Michael Biehn, Michael Eklund and Milo Ventimiglia; and the trailer. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

Hunger on Blu-rayHunger (DVD & Blu-ray combo pack)
The story focuses on a prison guard, two inmates, and the hunger strike led by Irish Republican Army militant Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) to tell a devastating story of political warfare and human dignity pushed to their uttermost limits.

One of the remarkable things about Steve McQueen’s directorial debut is the lack of dialogue. So much of the film focuses on Sands’ quiet suffering and personal protest. This is made more noticeable through the unusually long exchange between Sands and his priest as he seeks approval for his hunger strike. Fassbender’s dedication to the role is beyond impressive, depleting his body to skeletal proportions, mimicking Sands’ final days. The narrative pulls no punches when depicting the treatment of the IRA prisoners, but also sheds light on how they communicated inside and outside the prison.

There are no special features. (Alliance Films)

An Invisible Sign on Blu-rayAn Invisible Sign (Blu-ray)
Mona Gray (Jessica Alba) is a quirky young woman who has hidden in a private world of numbers ever since her father became ill. When Mona is offered a job as an elementary school math teacher, at first she is terrified but soon she introduces the students to her numerical obsession and inspires their own love of numbers.

Except that it stars Alba, this movie has a “Lifetime” feel to it: a young woman finds herself through teaching, making connections with a soon-to-be orphaned student and a persistent science teacher. Alba’s sweet but strange routine is adequate, though she’s too pretty to ever really go unnoticed. The decision to focus on only one of the grades would have been more acceptable if filmmakers hadn’t made a point to show two other classes first and then never again. J.K. Simmons plays an interesting secondary character who tends to draw the viewer’s attention whenever he enters the story.

Special features include: the theatrical trailer. (Entertainment One)

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol on Blu-rayMission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (DVD & Blu-ray combo pack)
Blamed for the terrorist bombing of the Kremlin, IMF operative Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is disavowed along with the rest of the agency when the President initiates “Ghost Protocol.” Left without any resources or backup, Ethan must find a way to clear his agency’s name and prevent another attack. To complicate matters further, Ethan is forced to embark on this mission with a team of fellow IMF fugitives whose personal motives he does not fully know.

This chapter picks up where the third film left off, immediately and subsequently addressing Ethan’s marriage, which occupied much of the previous picture. The team is different, but Simon Pegg is always an entertaining addition, expanding his role in the mission this time around. Jeremy Renner is expectedly stellar in the physical role and Cruise continues to impress with his athletic prowess. Paula Patton plays the token female member, but she’s given a little more background and depth than is typical. The gadgets are increasingly amazing, building on technology introduced before. Overall, this is probably the best, most captivating instalment since the first film.

Special features include: deleted Scenes with optional commentary by director Brad Bird; an alternate opening; “Mission Accepted,” on-set footage; “Impossible Missions,” behind the scenes of the stunts; trailers; and a digital copy of the film. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Shame on Blu-rayShame (DVD & Blu-ray combo pack)
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a 30-something man living comfortably in New York balancing a busy job and active social life. When the wayward Sissy (Carey Mulligan) turns up at his apartment unannounced, Brandon’s carefully managed lifestyle spirals out of control.

Fassbender and Mulligan convincingly display incredibly raw emotions in a powerful narrative. Sexual addiction is a term recently used often in the media. The overuse of the label made it simple to disregard the affliction as an excuse rather than a real ailment. However, Brandon’s compulsive behaviour and the risk he endures to satisfy his urges is proof he has little control much like an alcoholic cannot refrain from drinking. A scene at the beginning of the film is spellbinding as Brandon catches the eye of a woman on the train. He’s the predator on the prowl and she’s his desirable prey. Another mesmerizing moment is Mulligan’s slow, stunningly sad rendition of “New York, New York.” The conclusion is somewhat contrived, but not even that can detract from the exceptional, absolutely naked performances of the actors and the captivating narrative.

Special features include: Q&A with Fassbender; and interviews Fassbender and Mulligan. (Alliance Films)

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