Out on December 11 and December 18
Christopher Nolan rewrites the rules of war-movie engagement. Charlize Theron is totally badass in a relentless thriller that never takes its foot off the gas. The Minions return for another sequel that you may or may not have asked.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of Dunkirk, Atomic Blonde, Despicable Me 3, Willard, Ben, Carnival of Souls, Cult of Chucky, Le Plaisir, Miracle Mile, My Cousin Rachel, Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, The Mirror Crack’d, and Evil Under the Sun
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Back in January 2017, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge upheld the primacy of individual agency in the thick of World War 2’s extreme carnage. Potent though Gibson’s movie was, it surprised precisely no one when Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk turned out to be a more rigorous, restrained, tightly wound take on the war movie. Yet what remains mightily, startlingly impressive is the extent to which Nolan re-authors the well-trodden war movie as a thorough-going, suspense-fired study of survival, studded with his imprint from the off.
Even by Nolan’s attention-grabbing standards, Dunkirk’s opening is a statement of condensed purpose. A nerve’s-edge sense of mid-action tension is set as anxious soldiers in Dunkirk, 1940, watch pamphlets fall around them. The street-wide framing hints at a controlled POV that’s then shattered as enemy gunfire erupts from out of eye-shot. The survivor is Fionn Whitehead’s Tommy, though he barely scrapes it to safety as bullets splinter the fence he hides behind.
Tommy’s survival is out of luck, not pluck. Already, the film is hinting succinctly at the idea that war rewrites notions of agency, a theme extended as the soldiers queuing for rescue on the beach are soon jolted out of their very British formation. This is a film where character is shaped or shattered in and by action, not via notions of individualism or identity.
In the airborne plot thread, no one cares who Tom Hardy’s Farrier is until he puts on his mask. At sea, Cillian Murphy’s shell-shocked soldier is unnamed, unravelled (“He’s not himself,” Mark Rylance’s civilian sailboat rescuer Dawson says, tellingly). Alongside Tommy on the beach, Harry Styles’ Alex is barely recognisable as One Direction’s hair-flipping pin-up, the ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ front lost to volleys of f-bombs and some extreme, war-tilted ideas on fairness.
The taste for counter-casting that inspired Nolan to reinvent Heath Ledger reaps rich benefits here. Murphy’s rangy physicality and piercing eyes are initially suppressed as he huddles in foetal position, face in hands. Hardy’s occasionally indulgent mannerisms are reined in, his expressive reserve finely focused by his pilot’s mask. Michael Caine reaches new levels of minimalism – he isn’t visible, just a voice on the radio but no less resonant for it.
Vision (and the lack of it) is among another of Nolan’s interrogations of transformative wartime experience. Kenneth Branagh’s pier-head Commander Bolton looks longingly homeward: “You can practically see it,” he says, though seeing ‘it’ gets him no closer. Farrier struggles to spot enemy planes from his limited-view cockpit. Later, blindness is established as a motif, suggesting the way war’s extremes exceed sensory grasp.
That impression extends to the film’s grip on temporality. Nolan retools the multi-tier timeframes of Inception and Interstellar by setting events on land, sea and air to different time-scales. And it extends to the work of three MVPs, DoP Hoyte van Hoytema and composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, who achieve fine balancing acts by unleashing disorientating audio-visual broadsides without flagging up their virtuosity.
Van Hoytema navigates the clarity of beach-wide compositions, panic-lashed torpedo-strike set-pieces and IMAX-tooled views from a Spitfire, breaking ground at each step without ever losing any sense of visceral experience. If we’re far from the show-off Dunkirk sequence in Joe Wright’s Atonement, we’re also far from the slaughter-porn of some war movies that emerged in the wake of Saving Private Ryan. Gory overkill is rejected, the impact sharpened by Nolan’s pruning of indulgence.
Just as Nolan’s script never pauses for decorative speeches, so that sense of focus is tightened by a score that assumes double duty as an integrated soundscape. Mixing organic-electronic extremes with Elgar’s elegant ‘Nimrod’, Zimmer and Wallfisch’s barrages of on-point experimentalism are made to match the creaking roll of sinking ships, the strain of metal on metal, the panic of air running out.
Morality, sentimentality and toilet etiquette are rigorously rewritten in this panic-attack context, though Nolan decimates notions that he’s a cold fish with some well-deployed emotional strikes. Bolton’s eyes welling, Farrier’s stirring Han Solo moment, and a kindly lie told by Dawson’s son are perfectly pitched grace notes. One character is dubbed a “hero” in a newspaper headline too, though Nolan largely rejects abstractions about heroism for deeper insights into how the crossfire of unprecedented experience can re-shape action and identity.
What it all adds up to is a war movie like no other, right down to its climactic note of dazed reserve. “All we did is survive,” someone comments. “That’s enough,” comes the reply. Nolan makes survival seem like the most apposite tale to tell in this context: and it’s one that ought to be enough, surely, to bring home a few Oscars in March. Bonus feature(tte)s plot the achievement from creation to conclusion, spanning land, sea and air.
Director: Christopher Nolan; Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance; Digital HD release: December 12, 2017; DVD, BD, 4K release: December 18, 2017
With eyes that could freeze the ice in your Stoli at 40 paces, Charlize Theron makes deep-cool work of the super-spy in David Leitch’s riff on retro-noir comic The Coldest City. Pity the plot betrays her.
As a Theron vehicle, Blonde atomises Æon Flux; as a spy flick, it shakes up some wicked fight scenes without stirring up much interest in Theron’s investigation into a dead MI6 operative. The surfaces and soundtrack dazzle, but Wick/Bourne had more going on beneath.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Deleted scenes, Featurettes, Storyboards
Director: David Leitch; Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman; Digital HD release: December 4, 2017; DVD, BD, 4K release: December 11, 2017
Despicable Me 3
Sure, those Tic Tac-shaped Minions, once so tangy, have long since left a sour taste in the mouth, but this third adventure – in which Gru (Steve Carell) discovers he has a twin brother, Dru (Carell again), and battles ’80s kiddie star-turned-villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) – has oodles of invention.
The sounds aren’t bad either, with era-defining tunes by Michael Jackson, A-ha and Madonna drowning out the blighters’ babbling. Incredibly, the franchise (including spin-off Minions) has taken $3.7bn.
EXTRAS: Mini-movie, Making Of, Deleted scene, Featurettes, Music video
Directors: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin; Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker; DVD, BD, 3D BD, 4K, Digital HD release: November 6, 2017
Proving that there’s no greater love than that of a boy and his obedient army of killer rats, Willard set the bar somewhere around the middle for the rodent-horror genre in 1971. Played for sobs rather than scares, it’s an oddly sweet tale of a misfit man-child (Bruce Davison, X-Men’s Senator Kelly) who uses his pets to gnaw the faces off his bullies.
The sequel, 1972’s Ben, is justly only remembered for its Michael Jackson theme song, and swaps most of the oddball drama for more and more rat action.
EXTRAS: Commentaries, Interviews, Galleries
Director: Daniel Mann (Willard), Phil Karlson (Ben); Starring: Various; BD release: October 9, 2017
Carnival of Souls
Shot in just three weeks by a crew of six for a mere $33,000, Herk Harvey’s ghost story was influenced by German expressionism, Cocteau and Bergman, and in turn shaped the cinema of Romero and Lynch.
Eerily shot in black and white, it follows Mary (Candace Hilligoss) as she escapes a car crash, acquires work as a church organist and finds herself mysteriously drawn to a lakeside pavilion. Supremely spooky – even the amateur thesping adds to the aberrant atmosphere.
EXTRAS: Documentaries, Video essays, Deleted scenes
Director: Herk Harvey; Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger; BD release: October 23, 2017
Cult of Chucky
The Conjuring universe’s Annabelle is now horror’s devil doll du jour, but Chucky ain’t ready to die quite yet. This seventh instalment (following 2013’s Curse Of Chucky) sees franchise stalwart Don Mancini, on writing and directing duty for the third time, conjure the ghost of 1987’s A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 by having his plastic-fantastic fiend (again voiced by Brad Dourif) butcher patients in a psychiatric hospital.
Fans will flip for the grisly deaths and returning characters and sub-plots – yep, Jennifer Tilly is back for a fourth outing as Tiffany – but there’s little here to make Annabelle scared.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes
Director: Don Mancini; Starring: Allison Dawn Doiron, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif; DVD, BD release: October 23, 2017
Like Max Ophüls’ earlier La Ronde, this handsomely restored trio of Guy de Maupassant tales about the price of love and pleasure insists cynically that, “Happiness is not a joyful thing,” Ophüls’ restless camera whirls through a pretty parade of human folly via a mysterious dancehall dandy, a sex worker and an arrogant artist.
Gorgeously staged (Ophüls was Oscar-nommed for Art Direction), with fine turns from Jean Gabin and Danielle Darrieux, it’s packaged here with detailed featurettes aimed at Ophüls completists.
EXTRAS: Documentary, Featurette, Booklet
Director: Max Ophüls; Starring: Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux, Simone Simon; BD release: October 23, 2017
As Harry (Anthony Edwards) and Julie (Mare Winningham) meet cute in LA, this could be any cheesy ’80s romance. That is, until Harry intercepts a call announcing imminent nuclear armageddon… Steve De Jarnatt’s dark drama was the mother! of its era, a gutsy, challenging watch whose discomforting escalation from social satire to bruising barbarism made it an inevitable box-office flop.
Today, its impact is undimmed. It’s dated only by its Tangerine Dream score; what’s scary is how plausible it remains.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes, Alternate ending
Director: Steve De Jarnatt; Starring: Anthony Edwards, Mare Winningham, John Agar; BD release: October 16, 2017
My Cousin Rachel
This atmospheric Daphne du Maurier adap stays admirably true to its core ambiguity: is Rachel (Rachel Weisz) a predatory black widow, poisoning Sam Claflin’s infatuated heir, Philip, as she did his cousin before? Or is it all in Phil’s mind?
Solid performances make this a respectable option for anyone craving a dark period piece, but overall it feels too slight to warrant a hard recommend. Similarly decent if unremarkable extras include commentary with director Roger Michell.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Deleted scenes, Featurettes
Director: Roger Michell; Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Holliday Grainger; Digital HD, DVD, BD release: October 30, 2017
Murder on the Orient Express/Death on the Nile/The Mirror Crack’d/Evil Under the Sun
If Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express whets your appetite for all-star Christie adaps, gorge on a four-pack that boasts two Hercule Poirots (Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov), one Miss Marple (Angela Lansbury) and as many glamorous locations as it has dead bodies. The original Orient (1974, 4 stars) is the pick of the bunch, followed closely by Death on the Nile (1978, 4 stars).
The campy Evil Under the Sun (1982, 3 stars) impresses less, though, while Lansbury’s The Mirror Crack’d (1980, 3 stars) now resembles a Murder, She Wrote dry-run.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Interviews, Galleries
Director: Various; Starring: Various; DVD, BD (separately) release: October 23, 2017