May 28, 2023

Review: This week’s releases look for ways to avert disaster

A scene from 'Blacklight'

A scene from ‘Blacklight’ courtesy of VVS Films

Originally posted May 6, 2022

This week’s releases include a thrilling quest for the truth; a sci-fi disaster picture; a striking portrait of loneliness; a search for humanity; and some old movies that are showing their age.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Blacklight (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)

Travis Block (Liam Neeson) lives and fights in the shadows. A freelance government “fixer,” Block is a dangerous man whose assignments have included extracting agents out of deep-cover situations. He knows his hands are dirty, but he’s aiming to change. When an agent is killed after infiltrating a group espousing violent societal upheaval, Block discovers a shadowy program called “Operation Unity” is striking down ordinary citizens for reasons known only to Block’s boss, FBI chief Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn). As Block gets closer to the truth, he enlists the help of a journalist (Emmy Raver-Lampman), but his past and present collide when his daughter and granddaughter are threatened, and in saving them, he could save himself. Now, Block needs to rescue the people he loves and expose the truth for a shot at redemption.

The film is a fairly straightforward investigative thriller livened up with the occasional shootout as the powers at risk try to prevent any damaging new discoveries. Audiences know exactly what they’ll find once the basics are revealed — it’s just a matter of how many people will die in the process of bringing the truth to light. Quinn has had a varied career, but he instils Gabe with a coldness that makes him seem capable of anything. Even though director Mark Williams has worked previously with Neeson, he isn’t playing exactly the same personality, though there are inevitably similarities. Instead, he allows the revelations and his attachment to his granddaughter to humanize Travis and position him in contrast with Gabe. In the meantime, Smith appears genuinely determined, while Raver-Lampman brings a respectable level of resolve and drive to her character.

Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; and “Shooting Blacklight.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

Expired on Blu-ray
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Expired (Blu-ray & Digital copy)

A hitman (Ryan Kwanten) meets a mysterious woman (Jillian Nguyen) and comes down with a deadly illness.

Audiences are introduced to the hitman through a shroud of mystery. He’s given his shadowy assignment in an alley, then conspicuously stalks his victim before eliminating the target and using his payment for a strange service. His infatuation with the singer is returned with an earnest curiosity and desire to share the real version of herself with someone. He’s confused by these fresh feelings and then by the debilitating illness that threatens to shut down his body. Hugo Weaving plays an off-the-grid doctor and scientist who may be the only one who can help, but at a cost to everyone. In a world “built for machines,” humanity is a rare and precious commodity.

Special features include: making-of featurette; and trailer. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

Girl on a Chain Gang on Blu-ray
Film Detective

Girl on a Chain Gang (Blu-ray)

Three young people (William Watson, Julie Ange and Ron Charles) are framed, arrested and tossed into jail by corrupt Southern police.

Jerry Gross was a schlock producer who chose to direct an exploitation picture to comment on racism in the South following the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi a year earlier. The cops are stereotypical racists, offended the white woman would choose to spend time with a black man and disgusted the white man would do the same. They nearly manage to escape, but don’t take the opportunity they were provided and are once again detained. The cops are cruel and thrilled to dispense their own brand of justice on the trio. The young people never stand a chance. The end makes no efforts to beat around the bush, condemning the cops’ actions outright and delivering its own punishment. Interestingly, the film was shot far from the South in Long Island, New York.

Special features include: commentary; featurette from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures; and original essay. (Film Detective)

Moonfall on 4K
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Moonfall (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)

A mysterious force knocks the Moon from its orbit around Earth and sends it hurtling on a collision course with life as we know it. With mere weeks before impact and the world on the brink of annihilation, NASA executive and former astronaut Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) is convinced she has the key to saving us all — but only one astronaut from her past, Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), and a conspiracy theorist, K.C. Houseman (John Bradley), believe her. These unlikely heroes will mount an impossible last-ditch mission into space, leaving behind everyone they love, only to find out that our Moon is not what we think it is.

Some conspiracy theories are so far out there, there’s no way they could be possible — but that doesn’t mean they can’t be the basis for an out-of-this-world picture. This is a cross between science fiction and a disaster movie. The opening scene is designed to make audiences question what they have or have not seen, so they can empathize with the characters. Fast forward several years and that mystery is expanded to be a part of an even larger improbability that grows increasingly interesting. Houseman is excellent comic relief, even in the direst of situations, as his genius is balanced by a charming whimsy. Wilson and Bradley have great chemistry, and play off of each other very well for the picture’s entirety. Berry is the straight character, playing the serious — and less interesting — one throughout. The special effects are mesmerizing, from the massive gravity disruptions on Earth to the unimaginable trip to the moon.

Special features include: commentary by writer/producer/director Roland Emmerich and writer/producer/composer Harald Kloser; “Against Impossible Odds: Making Moonfall”; “Exploring the Moon: Past, Present, and Future”; “KC Houseman Speaks the Truth!”; and “Sounds of the Moon.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

Ode to Nothing on Blu-ray
Arrow Video

Ode to Nothing (Blu-ray)

Sonya (Marietta Subong a.k.a. Pokwang) is a living ghost, struggling to keep her family-owned funeral home afloat. Lonely and thoroughly alienated by an insistent bailiff, she wanders inside her own house, leaning heavily on her favorite Chinese song, recorded on a broken cassette tape, to get through the hours and days — until an unexpected corpse lands, rather illicitly, at her doorstep. Developing a unique relationship with the unclaimed body, she becomes fascinated by the cadaver’s absorbing mystique.

In what appears to be an effort to underscore Sonya’s loneliness, much of the beginning of the film is silent. She goes about her day with little interaction, passing her father wordlessly in their small shared apartment above the funeral home. As business picks up, Sonya exhibits a new energy, which is initially exhibited via increasingly animated conversations with her anonymous customer. However, as time goes on, she escalates the exchanges to a less comfortable and accepted level of familiarity, creating mixed reactions from the audience that may range from pity to shock to disgust. In the bonus features, director Dwein Baltazar discusses the prevalence of loneliness and isolation in her first three film projects, of which this is certainly no exception as Sonya’s solitude puts a significant toll on her life and mental health.

Special features include: interview with director Dwein Baltazar; booklet including writing by director of photography Neil Daza, production designer Maolen Fadul and new essay by Elmo Gonzaga. (Arrow Video)

Orange County on Blu-ray
Paramount Home Entertainment

Orange County (Blu-ray)

A high school senior (Colin Hanks) dreams of attending Stanford University until his guidance counsellor mistakenly spoils his chances.

At the height of stoner comedies in the early 2000s, this movie centred on a teen who found the balance between goofing off with his friends and applying himself academically. Unfortunately, his efforts are negated by a ridiculous error that forces him to confront and beg any and every adult that could alter the course. He’s joined by his girlfriend (Schuyler Fisk), who’s support occasionally wavers, and his loser brother who spends most of his time drunk or high on their parent’s couch. Near threats, devastating fire, unexpected sex and accidental ingestion of an illegal substance are just some of the milestones of their adventure, which is pretty much par for the course in this low-level comedy genre.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton on Blu-ray
Paramount Home Entertainment

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (Blu-ray)

Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel) is the biggest movie star in Hollywood, and it’s every girl’s dream to meet him. In the case of Rosalee (Kate Bosworth), her dream comes true when she wins a date with Tad Hamilton. To Rosalee’s surprise, he falls for her. And while it may be the best thing to ever happen to Rosalee, it means complete chaos for her best friend, Peter (Topher Grace), the boy back home who’s deeply, hopelessly — and-secretly — in love with her, too.

The idea of spending an uninterrupted meal with your favourite celebrity would be a dream come true for many. To imagine your famous crush falling for you after this brief encounter is even further beyond the realm of possibility. But this picture is built on that fantasy, for better or worse. On the one hand, it’s fun to watch everything go wrong as Tad shirks his responsibilities to follow his misguided belief that Rosalee can make him a better person after just one night together. On the other hand, the whole storyline about Peter sabotaging Rosalee’s happiness because he never got up the nerve to ask her out before someone else is dated and borderline misogynistic.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Entertainment)