Out on May 15 and May 22
Damien Chazelle’s nearly Best Picture winner. George Miller’s blockbuster receives a black-and-white makeover.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of La La Land, Mad Max: Fury Road – Black & Chrome Edition, Assassin’s Creed, Hacksaw Ridge, Sing, Lion, Pieces, The Proud Valley, My Darling Clementine, Lone Wolf and Cub, Multiple Maniacs, Property is No Longer a Theft, and The Mission
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La La Land
There's no such thing as a sure thing, but La La Land was anointed as Oscar frontrunner the second anybody saw it – arguably, even before that. Director Damien Chazelle was hot off the snare drums of Whiplash, stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone already had form together, and the idea of an old-fashioned song-and-dance movie about Hollywood was tailor-made for Academy glory.
And then: Oscar night. The victory lap, the correction, the confusion. And the winner is… Moonlight. It was an upset, except for those who understood La La Land’s bittersweet conflation of life and art. As Chazelle puts in on this disc’s extras, “When does real life ever measure up to the fantasy?”
Notwithstanding the six Oscars it won on the night, losing Best Picture is the best thing that could have happened to La La Land. The hype had ballooned until the film was a perilous target for a backlash, its flaws magnified under a thousand bloggers’ gaze, irate that Sebastian (Gosling) is a ‘mansplaining’ white saviour of jazz.
Yet the cocksure bravado of Chazelle’s staging, the film’s thrilling confidence in cinema, hid a much more fragile, reflective affair. Only against Moonlight’s soft glow did it look like a blockbuster. With any other rival, it would have been the underdog.
Which means it can be enjoyed again as a thrilling triumph of self-belief, dogged perseverance and talent. What Chazelle calls “wilful naïvety”, Mia (Stone) more poetically describes in ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’ as “a bit of madness is key to give us new colours to see”.
The film was nurtured by Chazelle and old college roommate/composer Justin Hurwitz over six years, before they shifted to Whiplash to prove they could hack it. That strategy worked, making La La Land the heir to Pulp Fiction or Magnolia in the way it gave Chazelle carte blanche to go bigger. But it’s still a film forged by those fools who dream.
Across plentiful extras – an insightful Chazelle/Hurwitz commentary and 79 minutes of featurettes – the Blu-ray is a manual for future filmmakers on the challenges of making their passion project. Take the filming of the exhilarating opening number ‘Another Day of Sun’. On-screen, it entirely justifies Chazelle’s ambition to begin with a “big loud cannon-blast”, so audiences know they’re watching a musical. Off-screen, it’s preposterous that he pulled it off.
The sequence was so complex, Chazelle explains, that producer Fred Berger bet him it couldn’t get made. Test footage, shot on an iPhone in a parking lot, shows how far Chazelle went to convince the doubters. Even then, with permission to close the freeway for three days – one to rehearse, two to shoot – he had to figure out how to avoid hitting dancers with the camera crane on the hottest days of the year.
Chazelle is candid about such difficulties, admitting to a last-minute rethink in the editing suite on the order of scenes – look out for Sebastian’s magically changing shirt colour. Didn’t notice it before? That’s because the film’s conviction in its no-safety-net approach is absolute.
Knowing how they did it makes the film’s delightful spontaneity even more miraculous. How Gosling learnt to play piano so convincingly that a hand double was dismissed after a day. How ‘A Lovely Night’ was filmed over two consecutive evenings in magic hour, the actors racing down the hill after every six-minute take to start again before the light died. How production designer David Wasco created a 25ft by 140ft mural for the climactic ballet.
Reality or fantasy? This is a masterclass in how one bleeds into another. Chazelle dares to be old-fashioned, leading some to declare his nostalgic élan as an evasion of the turbulent world we live in, but the film is infused with doubt.
It’d be easy for this to be a pastiche, with Chazelle freely admitting to his influences: Vincente Minnelli, Stanley Donen and Jacques Demy. Yet, like Sebastian and Mia, he’s haunted, daunted – and inspired – by the greats. The film fuses form and function as Chazelle debates the pros and cons of bringing seemingly out-dated modes of expression thrillingly up to date.
He’s helped by Gosling and Stone who, in their third collaboration, repay Chazelle’s belief that they’re this generation’s nearest equivalent to a Golden Age screen couple. Gosling’s genial, dashing cool has never been so well used, while Stone’s Oscar-winning performance is her best yet: expressive, empathetic and fizzing with energy.
But the film’s MVP is Hurwitz. His score effortlessly bridges the gap between jazz-age showstoppers and today’s more introspective balladry. So many leitmotifs are threaded through the film that it’s only in the bittersweet epilogue that you realise how much emotion is invested in the tunes. The Blu-ray gives viewers the chance to head straight for the songs and relive the fantasy again.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Commentary, Demos, Song selection
Director: Damien Chazelle; Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt; Digital HD release: May 8, 2017; DVD, BD, 4K release: May 15, 2017
Mad Max: Fury Road – Black & Chrome Edition
“For me, it’s the best version of the movie,” says George Miller in the brief intro for the black-and-white cut of his 2015 action opus Mad Max: Fury Road. While we’re loathe to disagree with anything Uncle George has to say, Black & Chrome isn’t better so much as different; more counterpoint than replacement for the retina-searing original.
Frame for frame, the film remains the same turbo-charged thrill-ride, and there’s sound logic behind Fury Road’s makeover. Thematically it couldn’t be more appropriate – not only has the Wasteland been stripped of life, it’s now been drained of colour, extending Miller’s stylistic mastery of his dystopian universe. Black & Chrome is grittier, more abstract, while the added character clarity is frequently striking.
But Fury Road is a film of wanton excess, of unapologetic insanity. The explosive palette is integral. There’s no denying the burnt orange of Namibia’s dunes, the piercing blue skies and Doof Warrior’s guitar-propelled flames lose lustre without their hyperreal hues. More damaging is that finer details at times disappear, while backgrounds fade into a formless expanse, as against the original’s evocative vistas.
Packaged with the theatrical cut on disc, Black & Chrome is a fascinating extra, but the colour cut remains Miller’s masterpiece.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Introduction, Deleted scenes
Director: George Miller; Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult; BD, Digital HD: May 15, 2017
This serious-minded adap of the videogame franchise sees Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) plucked from Death Row and experimented on so he might access the memories and skills of his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha (Fassbender again), who fought the Templar Order in 15th Century Spain.
The plotting is Dan Brown typing with broken fingers, but the camerawork and fights have the thrilling tactility you’d expect from the Macbeth trio of the Fass, Marion Cotillard and director Justin Kurzel.
EXTRAS: Making Of, Interviews (BD), Deleted scenes (BD), Stills gallery
Director: Justin Kurzel; Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons; DVD, BD, 3D BD, 4K release: May 15, 2017
Mel Gibson returns to the director’s chair (and the Oscar nominations list) after a decade’s absence with this blistering WW2 tale of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a real-life conscientious objector who vowed to fight without bearing arms.
It’s a remarkable story, with Garfield on fine form as the almost Christ-like Doss (who saved 75 men during the hellish Battle of Okinawa) and robust support from Vince Vaughn and Hugo Weaving. The intense battle sequences are savage to watch, but they never outweigh Doss’ startling bravery.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Deleted scenes, Making Of
Director: Mel Gibson; Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey; DVD, BD, 4K, Digital HD release: May 22, 2017
Illumination Entertainment’s slick singalong caper isn’t without its charms, but it feels as manufactured as bubblegum pop. It gets off to a strong, high-energy start, whizzing through its animal-inhabited cityscape, as koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) mounts a talent show to save his theatre, but it never hits the high notes.
Director Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow) spins an impressively eclectic soundtrack, but a herd of too many characters means no one gets a satisfying solo story. Strong extras will entertain kids.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Music videos, Mini-movies
Director: Garth Jennings; Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane; DVD, BD, 4K, 3D, Digital HD release: May 22, 2017
Oscar-nommed Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, as well as Rooney Mara, are the nominal stars of this true-life tear-jerker about an Indian orphan raised in Tasmania, who, once grown up, uses satellite imagery to locate the family he was separated from as a child. But all three are upstaged by pint-sized Sunny Pawar, as the young version of Patel’s Saroo.
He not only carries the first half of Garth Davis’s moving if manipulative debut film, but also sets a benchmark of authenticity that his more seasoned cast-mates have trouble matching.
Director: Garth Davis; Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: May 22, 2017
Spanish director Juan Piquer Simón made some sensationally garbled good-bad horrors, of which this Boston-set, Valencia-shot slasher from 1982 is the pinnacle. As a chainsaw-wielding maniac stealths his way around campus, the gore is plentiful, clothing (and logic) scant and performances off the scale – think Argento via Ed Wood.
Iconic scenes include a waterbed murder and Lynda Day screaming “BASTARD!” like she’s ejecting a lung. Generous extras almost justify the £29.99 RRP.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Booklet, Alternate score, Commentary, Theatrical/Director’s cuts
Director: Juan Piquer Simón; Starring: Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Frank Braña; Dual format: March 27, 2017
The Proud Valley
Blacklisted when it came out in 1940 because star Paul Robeson criticised British appeasement, The Proud Valley never got the chance to become a classic.
The story of a black American drifter who joins a Welsh colliery choir and starts battling for workers’ rights, it’s the sort of provocative stuff that Hollywood would not have dared make at the time – leaving it to Ealing Studios to quietly push racial, political and social boundaries with a quaint mining melodrama.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, News report, Concert tracks
Director: Pen Tennyson; Starring: Paul Robeson, Edward Chapman, Simon Lack; DVD, BD release: March 27, 2017
My Darling Clementine
John Ford’s classic – if fictionalised – telling of the famous Wild West showdown at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, with Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature surprisingly effective as Doc Holliday.
The story’s been retold many times since, but none equals Ford for the sheer grandeur and visual poetry he brings to it. And despite the title, it’s less about Wyatt’s romance with schoolteacher Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) or his relationship with Doc than about the coming of civilisation to the frontier.
EXTRAS: Documentary, Commentary, Masterclass, Video essay, Gallery
Director: John Ford; Starring: Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell, Victor Mature; BD release: March 27, 2017
Lone Wolf and Cub
A big influence on everything from Sin City to Samurai Jack, Kazuo Koike’s legendary manga first inspired one of the greatest, bloodiest epics of Japanese exploitation cinema. Tomisaburô Wakayama plays wronged assassin Ogami Itto, who’s travelling the world with nothing but his sword, his infant son and a heavily armed pram.
Criterion collects all six adapted chapters in one satisfyingly overladen boxset, stretching from 1972’s seminal Sword of Vengeance to 1974’s bonkers zombie blood-bath White Heaven In Hell. See it before the rumoured Justin Lin remake materialises.
EXTRAS: Interviews, Documentaries, Booklet
Director: Various; Starring: Various; BD release: March 27, 2017
It begins with a puke-eating freak show; it ends with a giant rapist lobster. A trashy, B-movie shock-fest starring Divine as a homicidal maniac, this black-and-white curio was the “trainer wheels” for John Waters’ career.
Even by Waters’ own lo-fi standards, it’s rawly made — with many scenes meandering into weirdness — but it remains a work of outrageous wit and filthy subversion; a film made by genuine outsiders, rebelling against the Nixonland values that wanted them dead.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Interviews, Essay
Director: John Waters; Starring: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce; BD release: March 20, 2017
Property is No Longer a Theft
Elio Petri’s black comedy sees a Marxist bank clerk (Flavio Bucci) wage economic war on a corrupt businessman (Ugo Tognazzi) by stealing what’s his – including his mistress (Daria Nicolodi). It’s directed with anarchic flamboyance and full of surreal flourishes: the hero is literally allergic to money.
Yet for all its punchy barbs about crime and capitalism, the wayward narrative can’t sustain the satirical focus, and Petri’s critique of sexism is scarcely distinguishable from the real thing.
EXTRAS: Interviews, Booklet
Director: Elio Petri; Starring: Ugo Tognazzi, Flavio Bucci, Daria Nicolodi; Dual format release: March 20, 2017
If Roland Joffé’s career never fulfilled its promise, nor did his second feature (after 1984’s The Killing Fields) match its ambitions. Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro are atypically remote as – respectively – priest and slave trader-turned-penitent protecting 18th Century Guarani tribes-folk from Iberian colonials.
Robert Bolt’s preachy script reduces characters to positions; only Ray McAnally’s cardinal compels. Ennio Morricone’s lush score and Chris Menges’ images swoon, but Joffé shoots their bolt early too: his film peaks at its symphonic waterfall prologue. Decent carry-over commentary.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Documentary
Director: Roland Joffé; Starring: Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally; Dual format release: March 20, 2017