New to Blu-ray/DVD: Citizenfour, Where Hope Grows, and Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon



Editor’s Notes: Citizenfour, Where Hope Grows, and Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon are out on their respective formats August 25th.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 12.27.17 AMCitizenfour (Anchor Bay) is a real-life thriller that unfolds in gripping minute-by-minute fashion. Director Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald met with whistleblower Edward Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room as he handed over classified documents that provided evidence of mass, indiscriminate and illegal invasions of privacy by the National Security Agency. The film explores the dangers of unchecked governmental surveillance, bringing out how our phone, e-mails, credit cards, and web browser are not as secure and private as we thought.

The primary revelation in this documentary is that government agencies such as the CIA, FBI, and NSA go through all of our records, looking for certain buzzwords. If they’re found, you get earmarked for greater scrutiny and possible harassment. When Poitras and Greenwald meet with Snowden, they don’t even know his name. After Greenwald publishes the story of Snowden’s exile with help from media outlets in Great Britain and Brazil, other reporters join the U.S. government in looking for him. Poitras’ camera captures his evasions and disguises as Snowden searches for a country that will grant him asylum.

The documentary plays like a Hollywood spy film as it exposes the lengths to which the United States will go to find and put Snowden on trial for treason. In a post-9/11 world, many will argue that the collection of data on a mass scale is necessary to find and stop potential terror threats to American citizens. Others will claim that methods cannot circumvent the Constitution. Poitras permits actual footage to tell the story, leaving conclusions to the viewer. The film itself is a testament to guaranteed First Amendment rights. It is the 2014 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Feature.

Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include deleted scenes; New York Times talk with Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and David Carr; Film Society of Lincoln Center Q & A with Laura Poitras; and “The Program,” a New York Times Op-Doc by Laura Poitras.

Where Hope Grows
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Where Hope Grows (Lionsgate) is a variation on the melodrama about excessive drinking. Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha) is a high school baseball star who’s blown his chance playing for the Major Leagues when a panic attack caused him to freeze up at home plate. As a result, he was dropped from the Detroit Tigers. He spends his days drinking with his buddies and having little to do with raising his teenage daughter, Katie (McKaley Miller).

During his daily liquor runs at a local convenience store, Calvin befriends Produce (David DeSanctis), a young man with Down syndrome. Produce’s simple, faith-based outlook on life cuts through Calvin’s booze haze and he resolves to turn his life around. The plot is overly familiar and the infusion of faith into Calvin’s life is awkwardly contrived. The standout performance here is DeSanctis, who etches a genuine portrayal of a life-affirming individual whose condition hasn’t dampened his spirit one iota.

Reminiscent of a Lifetime or Hallmark movie, Where Hope Grows is filled will sentimentality. The dramatic spark here is Calvin’s desire to forge a better relationship with Katie and to be a part of her life. His own self-pity, however, has served as impediment to that goal. It is Produce’s cheerful life and love of his job that motivate Calvin to snap out of his self-imposed gloom and seek redemption.

Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include deleted scenes, audio commentary with director and writer, and a feature about the casting of David DeSanctis. A digital HD copy is enclosed.

Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon
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Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon (Sony Home Entertainment) is celebrating its 30th anniversary with this first-time-on-Blu-ray release. The film is a pot pourri of styles: martial arts, blaxploitation, romance, and musical all rolled into one. Leroy Green, aka “Bruce Leroy”(Taimak), dreams of becoming a great martial artist like his idol Bruce Lee. He searches for the “master” to obtain the final level of martial arts mastery known as “the glow.” Along the way, he must face off with an evil martial arts expert and rescue a beautiful singer from an obsessed music promoter.

Leroy lives on the rough streets of New York City, taking on Bruce Lee’s teachings as a way of life. Though he’s made fun of, he’s comfortable with who he is. When the gang lord Sho’nuff (Julius Carry) begins a reign of terror on the streets and challenges Leroy for the title of martial arts grand master, the confrontation leads to plenty of action. But Leroy has a pretty full plate. He also has to come to the rescue of music video show host Laura (Vanity), who’s being pressured by an unscrupulous music promoter (Chris Murney) to show his girlfriend’s video on her show.

The Last Dragon is an odd blending of styles, but is nonetheless entertaining. Taimak has charm and scenes such as his eating popcorn in a movie theatre with chopsticks are nice contrasts to the action scenes. Because Berry Gordy’s name is in the title, you can be sure the picture boasts a cool soundtrack, including songs by DeBarge, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Rockwell.

Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include a making-of featurette with cast and crew interviews, commentary by director Michael Schultz, and theatrical trailer. Also enclosed is a digital HD copy.


About Author

For over 25 years, I was the Film and Home Entertainment Reviewer for "The Villadom TIMES," a New Jersey weekly newspaper, and have written for several other publications. I developed and taught a Film Studies program for two New York City high schools that included Film History, Horror/Fantasy, and Film Making.