Out on 20 March and 27 March
Amy Adams picks the wrong book to read. Nick Cave’s tackles music and grief in a sensational documentary. Nicolas Cage searches for Osama bin Laden.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of Nocturnal Animals, Arrival, Fright Night, One More Time with Feeling, Raising Cain, Tower of London, Willie Dynamite, Army of One, Keeping Up with the Joneses, Cover Girl, and Christine.
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It’s just possible that Amy Adams was too good for Oscar this year. With five nods already, most expected her to bag an easy sixth. But for which performance? In showing her range – warm and empathetic in Arrival, cool and aloof in Nocturnal Animals – Adams may have split her vote and come away with nothing.
It’s the audience’s gain. Here are two of 2016’s most ambitious, thought-provoking films, each bending its apparent genre (sci-fi, noir thriller) into unpredictable shapes. Directors Denis Villeneuve and Tom Ford play bold games with editing that each challenge conventions of movie narrative, but get away with it because Adams anchors these very complex, conceptual stories with characteristic humanity.
The titular event in Arrival is literal: 12 alien pods arrive across the world and Adams’ linguist, Dr. Louise Banks, is tasked with communicating with the occupants. Yet the title also works philosophically: how have we arrived where we are? And where are we going?
Such questions aren’t commonly asked in big-budget sci-fi, but Villeneuve – on arguably the best winning streak in Hollywood today – seeds the ideas with a masterclass in movie texture. Bradford Young’s tactical cinematography and ominous sound design create appropriately awe-struck spectacle, even as Villeneuve reshapes film grammar to outwit us.
Adams’ nuanced turn navigates the twists by marrying the optimistic pep familiar from Enchanted’s Princess Giselle to a melancholic maturity, as memories of Louise’s family emerge to devastating emotional effect. Even so, it’s a shock to turn from Arrival to Nocturnal Animals, where she conjures an altogether darker mood.
When ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends Adams’ Susan the manuscript of his novel, a bleak Texan murder-mystery, she’s entranced by its autobiographical resonances – and, sure enough, Gyllenhaal doubles as the story-in-the-story’s lead character, Tony. Ford’s grounding in fashion makes light work of the intricacy, using repeated design cues to link the film’s narrative levels.
Where Arrival’s plea for co-operation over fear and suspicion is a timely reminder of cinema’s power to connect us, Nocturnal Animals’ bleak view of art as parasitic is altogether more divisive – is it misogynistic, or a critique of misogyny?
It’s apt that awards voters can’t seem to decide who to praise for the film. While Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s frightening turn as Tony’s nemesis won a Golden Globe, the Academy gave its only nod to co-star Michael Shannon’s sardonic Texan lawman. Both are fine but, really, Oscar or not, this is Adams’ year.
Arrival: 5 stars
Director: Denis Villeneuve; Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker; DVD, BD release: March 20, 2017
Nocturnal Animals: 4 stars
Extras: Making Of, Featurettes
Director: Tom Ford; Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon; DVD, BD release: March 20, 2017
One More Time with Feeling
“I don’t think life is a story,” Nick Cave asserts in Andrew Dominik’s documentary. Grief knows no tidy narrative in this devastating study of creativity and mourning, where Cave records his latest album (Skeleton Tree) in the aftermath of 15-year-old son Arthur’s death.
As the singer reflects deeply on loss, Dominik’s empathetic portrait proceeds in meditative vignettes; no glib tragedy-to-salvation bromides here. A uniquely piercing, poetic anatomisation of grief’s fallout emerges, with Cave’s music its tenderly ruminative heartbeat.
Director: Andrew Dominik; Starring: Nick Cave; DVD, BD release: March 31, 2017
When teenager Charley (William Ragsdale) becomes convinced his neighbour (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire, no one believes him – not his mum, not the cops, not his girlfriend. So he turns to TV host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), ‘The Great Vampire Killer’ – to find he’s an ageing actor who doesn’t want to know.
Tom Holland’s cult horror skilfully blends comedy with scares, with Sarandon acting up a storm. Forget the 2011 remake – this is the Night to remember. Unfeasibly lavish extras.
EXTRAS: Documentary, Interviews, Press kit, Booklet
Director: Tom Holland; Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse; Dual format release: March 27, 2017
Brian De Palma is a divisive filmmaker and this is his most divisive work. Even the director’s acolytes argue over its merit: minor or masterpiece? Arrow’s excellent presentation will throw fuel on the debate, offering as it does the 1992 theatrical release and the superior 2012 Director’s Cut; both contain the same scenes, but extensively rearranged.
The original release centres on child psychologist Carter (John Lithgow), who raises his young daughter like the subject of an experiment, and whose long-buried split personalities erupt when he discovers his wife, Jenny (Lolita Davidovich), is having an affair.
Re-cutting Cain to place the focus more squarely on Jenny’s romantic fantasies was essentially a fan project, as Dutch director/editor Peet Gelderblom shuffled scenes to realign them with the second draft of the script (then titled ‘Father’s Day’).
The result – its chopped-up chronology and flashbacks within flashbacks making for a Chinese puzzle box of a movie – met with acclaim, most notably from De Palma himself: “It’s what I originally wanted the movie to be,” he said, confessing to hitting obstacles and losing nerve in post-production.
Coming so soon after M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, now is a good time to revisit De Palma’s formal experiment, a film that Lithgow describes in an in-depth interview as “more De Palma than De Palma”.
EXTRAS: Interviews, Visual essays, Booklet
Director: Brian De Palma; Starring: John Lithgow, Lolita Davidovich, Steven Bauer; Dual format release: January 30, 2017
Memories of Underdevelopment
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea led the Latin American New Wave in the ’60s – and this often overlooked masterpiece still stands as Cuba’s greatest contribution to world cinema. Using stills, documentary footage and verité camerawork to track an apathetic intellectual (Sergio Corrieri) who stays in Havana after his wife flees Castro’s regime, the film plays like the pre-apocalyptic cousin of Hiroshima Mon Amour.
It might bear the influence of European cinema, but Alea’s roots are firmly rooted in his country’s passion and politics. Revolutionary stuff.
Director: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea; Starring: Sergio Corrieri, Daisy Granados, Eslinda Núñez; BD release: February 17, 2017
Under the Shadow
This ’80s-set Iranian horror juggles politics, pertinence and peril, as heroine Shideh (Narges Rashidi, magnificent) battles patriarchy, the terrors of the Iran-Iraq War and an invading djinn.
From spot-on period touches (Shideh’s workout video) to full-blown scares (don’t go into the basement…), first-time director Babak Anvari keeps the reins tight. He weaves J-horroresque elements into the tension-cranking set-pieces to create one of the most harrowing, haunting horrors of the decade.
Director: Babak Anvari; Starring: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi; DVD release: January 23, 2017
Tower of London
Taking a break from adapting Edgar Allen Poe, low-budget maestro Roger Corman and star Vincent Price dally with Shakespeare instead in this melodramatic medieval murderfest. Merging Universal’s 1939 take on Tower with Macbeth and Richard III, Corman gives Price free theatrical rein as the power-hungry Richard of Gloucester, killing his way to the throne but tormented by his own guilty conscience.
Context-rich extras include interviews with Corman and his producer brother and a commentary by Price’s biographer.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes, Booklet
Director: Roger Corman; Starring: Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Joan Freeman; Dual format release: February 13, 2017
Part blaxploitation thriller, part public service announcement, the Gilbert Moses-helmed Willie Dynamite is aimed squarely at anyone who thinks it’s ever-so-slightly cool to be a pimp. To start with, it does seem pretty cool, with Roscoe Orman (better known as Gordon off Sesame Street) cruising around New York in the kind of outfits that Derek Zoolander would be embarrassed to wear.
Things take a moralising turn pretty quickly, though, when he gets in the habit of slapping his girls around, while the rest is a curiously un-cool fable about walking the straight and narrow.
EXTRAS: Featurette, Booklet
Director: Gilbert Moses; Starring: Roscoe Orman, Diana Sands, Thalmus Rasulala; Dual format release: February 6, 2017
Army of One
Borat’s Larry Charles directs Nicolas Cage in this broad comic take on a bizarre and incredible true story. Lone patriot Gary Faulkner (Cage) believes he receives a message from God to go to Pakistan, find Osama bin Laden and capture him.
With Russell Brand co-starring as Our Lord (yes, really) and a pony-tailed Cage in manic mode, the tone is wildly uneven and Charles never gets a grip. It’s undoubtedly a fascinatingly bonkers tale, but a documentary would have been far better than this slapdash nonsense.
Director: Larry Charles; Starring: Nicolas Cage, Russell Brand; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: February 6, 2017
Keeping Up with the Joneses
Greg Mottola’s slapstick-stuffed comedy about a nosy couple who discover that their new neighbours are spies wants to combine the glamour of Mr. & Mrs. Smith with the all-action laughs of True Lies.
Too bad it gets stuck mining the married-with-children gags and admittedly cute comic chemistry of Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher’s bumbling suburbanites. Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot’s sleek undercover agents get short shrift, and the shriek-filled car chases and gun battles don’t raise titters or tension.
EXTRAS: Featurette, Deleted scenes, Gallery
Director: Greg Mottola; Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: February 13, 2017
Ignore the throwaway plot (dancer turns model), throwaway subplot (flashing back to our heroine’s 1890s nan) and non-starter love triangle; Columbia Pics’ first Technicolor musical is all about the toe-tapping and scene-stealing, with support players Phil Silvers and Eve Arden all but upstaging leads Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly (who in turn upstages himself in a seeing-double dance-off).
Features possibly the biggest ramp in musical history, but thin extras: booklet and five-minute Baz Luhrmann appreciation.
EXTRAS: Featurette, Booklet
Director: Charles Vidor; Starring: Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, Lee Bowman; Dual format release: February 13, 2017
It’s one of the strangest and saddest footnotes in the history of reportage: in 1974, a suicidal 29-year-old American TV news anchor called Christine Chubbuck shot herself live on air, in a tragedy that reportedly inspired Sidney Lumet’s Network.
In her best and most challenging role to date, Rebecca Hall nobly humanises the depressed reporter – driven to despair by a combination of institutional sexism, the ratings-driven grind, and a terrible, wintry loneliness – in this excellent, heartbreaking biopic.
Director: Antonio Campos; Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: February 27, 2017