Out on May 29 and June 5
Danny Boyle reunites the Trainspotting gang. James McAvoy demonstrates his versatility. A horror classic receives a modern update. A pair of Scorsese’s lesser-known gems get a release.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of T2: Trainspotting, Split, Rings, Fifty Shades Darker, Prevenge, Jackie, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, Gold, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Who’s That Knocking At My Door, The Dead or Alive Trilogy, Hell Drivers, House: The Complete Collection, and Stake Land II.
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Choose winning an Oscar and creating the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Choose going to Hollywood and playing Sherlock Holmes or Obi-Wan Kenobi, if you must. But, above all, choose life before bringing the gang back together for a sequel to 1996’s Trainspotting.
It’s the passage of time that gives T2 Trainspotting its surprising emotional and intellectual heft. This is neither cash-in nor afterthought. It’s a carefully considered sequel, built not only in the image of the characters on the screen, but also the audience watching them. Everybody’s grown up, but not necessarily moved on: a date movie with an old flame.
“You’re a tourist in your own youth,” Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) tells Renton (Ewan McGregor) – but aren’t we all? Even down to the titular echo of another ’90s classic, T2 Trainspotting is a film steeped in the expectations of everyone who grew up with the original as a generational touchstone and the standard-bearer for great British cinema. There’s always the danger of pissing on the legacy, and that goes double when the characters themselves aren’t the most reliable of sorts. Fortunately, Danny Boyle and his reunited cast and crew are astute enough to understand that.
Rather than ape Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel, Porno, Boyle leans instead into the earlier film’s reputation – using it as support, testing it for weaknesses, simultaneously celebrating and critiquing the good old days. This is a very modern, post-Linklater sequel, whose self-analysis extends to literally leaving Trainspotting’s ghost up on the screen. The editing finds its rhythm in heart-stopping cross-cuts to the original movie, in which paunchy middle-aged stars are haunted by their thinner, fresher-faced forebears.
The characters, too, are ghosts of their past. Backstory is always tricky to get right in sequels; here, the tragedy is that there is no backstory. Renton, Sick Boy, Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) have been locked in different forms of stasis – marriage, addiction, prison – all brooding on the betrayal that ended Trainspotting. Despite smartphones and Snapchat, these guys have barely been touched by today’s culture, little better than the sectarian thugs that Renton and Sick Boy rip off, still dreaming of a near-mythological Golden Age.
The film’s smartest touch is the introduction of Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), Sick Boy’s Bulgarian girlfriend. The polar opposite to the guys in gender, age and ethnicity, Veronika is the switched-on voice of 2017, daring to confront their reputation and see if it still sticks. It’s hard not to see her as Boyle’s self-reflexive voice of dissent against Trainspotting’s cast-iron classic status, and his awareness that there’s a new generation determined to do better.
Perhaps that’s why this blast from the past comes with so much ‘blast’, courtesy of Boyle’s relentless energy – when he and his regular DoP Anthony Dod Mantle get together, there isn’t a safe or boring shot in the film. Yet make no mistake, this is a middle-aged film, and it gradually slows as the knees give way. Trainspotting was built on momentum and this can’t compete, but there’s an equally satisfying kick to the sequel’s slow burn, as it settles into the lugubrious black comedy of Renton and Sick Boy trying to secure EU funding for a brothel.
It’s this level of emotional intelligence that lets you skate past the film’s speed bumps: the baggier structure, the reliance on conventional (if thoroughly enjoyable) set-pieces, such as Renton’s improvised anti-Catholic sing-song, or the sledgehammer-subtle scrapyard aesthetic. Mostly, though, it works because it gets the details spot-on, with John Hodge’s screenplay so sharp it can identify characters by their choice of swearword (“cunt”, “prick”).
That gives the actors enormous space to resurrect their youthful skins, still respectively cheeky, cynical, raging and hopeless, but able to convey a lifetime of regret in a furrowed brow. To some extent, regardless of where they’ve been, the familiarity of technique and performance suggests the actors have also been trying and failing to kick the habit. Have they been waiting for another spin of ‘Lust for Life’?
There’s such sly linkage between performer and performance that the roles become virtually autobiographical. McGregor/Renton is the prodigal son returning to his roots and rediscovering his form. Miller/Sick Boy keeps working, looking for the juicy project that will hit the jackpot. Carlyle/Begbie brings the noise, funnier and more sympathetic than before, an irresistible bogeyman. And Bremner/Spud is ignored at everyone’s peril – as the actor most typecast by his role, there’s a real satisfaction to Bremner delivering the story’s moral centre. Nostalgia’s a trap – it’s all about what you choose to do with it.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Deleted scenes, Featurettes
Director: Danny Boyle; Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller; DVD, BD, 4K Ultra release: June 6, 2017
Fully rehabilitated from a near fatal case of head-up-the-arse-itis, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan is back doing what he does best: imbuing schlocky B-movie concepts with a straight-facedness usually reserved for Oscar contenders. The results are seriously good.
James McAvoy plays a dissociative identity disorder sufferer with 23 distinct personalities (one OCD, one gay, one female, none Scottish), who abducts teenager Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) and her friends while trying to convince his therapist Betty Buckley (the nice gym teacher from Carrie) that everything’s just fine.
Shyamalan fans know what to expect here: elegantly composed, insidiously threatening shots; plot operatics grounded in gritty realism; implied violence; plus more twists than a broken corkscrew. An embarrassing but mercifully brief Shyamalan cameo aside, the performances are excellent, with McAvoy bringing the fireworks, Buckley the sweetness and Taylor-Joy a steel that means she’s always the protagonist, never the victim.
Tense and intelligent throughout, Split is a taut psychological thriller that keeps you guessing until the end… and beyond. Extras are solid rather than surprising, though the alternate ending speaks volumes for Shyamalan’s craft and patience: he knows exactly what he’s doing.
EXTRAS: Making Of, Featurettes, Alternate ending, Deleted scenes
Director: M. Night Shyamalan; Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson; DVD, BD release: June 6, 2017
Despite the Aliens-ish title, F. Javier Gutiérrez’s bid to revive Americanised J-horror’s heyday is more faded copy than maxed-out evolution. Digi-twists on hairy ghost Samara’s VHS curse tease viral upgrades, but they’re sidelined for origins blather, where exposition dulls Samara’s enigmatic power. Bland college-kid leads, meanwhile, deaden human interest.
After It Follows’ scary/surreal take on curses, Rings looks silly and prosaic, its lofty Orpheus nods adding only one unwitting message: leave Samara behind.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Deleted scenes
Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez; Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki; Digital HD DVD, BD release: May 29, 2017
Fifty Shades Darker
Despite promises that this James Foley-directed sequel would be dirtier, Dorn-ier and, yes, darker than 2015’s risible-but-nevertheless-watchable predecessor, the series based on E.L. James’ novels continues to fumble. The peculiarly uneventful plot sees assorted nutjobs attempting to drive apart the newly reunited Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan).
The winning central performances and self-aware humour will (just about) see you through, but otherwise this is only to be enjoyed ironically. The extended cut offers 13 extra minutes of sado-silliness.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurette
Director: James Foley; Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson; DVD, BD, VOD release: June 6, 2017
Alice Lowe writes, stars in and makes her directorial debut with this wickedly sharp horror comedy, which brings new meaning to the phrase ‘bloody funny’. Lowe (herself seven months pregnant during the shoot) plays the heavily pregnant Ruth, who goes on a killing spree at the behest of her unborn child, its voice urging her to lash out against society.
There are serious metaphors to be drawn about the emotional turmoil of impending motherhood, but this is also simply a twisted slice of B-movie brilliance.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurette
Director: Alice Lowe; Starring: Alice Lowe, Kate Dickie; DVD, BD, VOD release: June 6, 2017
An actors’ director with a keen grasp of historical psychologies, Pablo Larraín (No) makes acute work of his impeccably played, boldly nonlinear English-language debut. Natalie Portman summons Black Swan-ly poise as Jackie Kennedy, composed yet howling inside after JFK’s death.
While the journalistic plot frame is merely functional, Portman’s electric lead and Larraín’s incisive direction merge to create a piercing portrait of a woman navigating historically prescribed roles and raw feeling. Star/director share the spot-on commentary.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Making Of, Gallery
Director: Pablo Larraín; Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig; Digital HD DVD, BD release: May 29, 2017
XXX: Return of Xander Cage
Vin Diesel proves again that the line between fast, furious fun and laughable nonsense can be easily crossed with the wrong script. Fifteen years after his first extreme-sports-filled spy adventure, Xander Cage (Diesel) is the only person with enough skateboard skills to prevent a terrorist gang from using a new deadly weapon.
Donnie Yen lends welcome credibility to the action, and there are some cool stunts, but it’s all undercut by choppy editing, terrible dialogue and excessive ego-stroking.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Gag reel
Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez; Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki; Digital HD DVD, BD, 3D BD release: May 29, 2017
Set in the ’80s and “inspired [loosely] by actual events”, Gold fails to glitter as Matthew McConaughey’s paunchy, balding prospector teams with Edgar Ramírez’s geologist to hit the titular motherlode in the forests of Indonesia.
A rise-and-fall tale accompanied by McConaughey’s wheezily excitable voiceover, it wants to be Wolf of Wall Street set in the Herzogian wilderness, but familiarity robs it of both mystery and brio. Disappointing given it’s directed by Stephen Gaghan (writer of Syriana and Traffic).
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Deleted scene
Director: D.J. Caruso; Starring: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone; DVD release: June 6, 2017
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore / Who’s That Knocking at My Door
Who’s That Knocking At My Door, Martin Scorsese’s 1967 debut feature, began life as a student short. It still looks a little rough around the edges, but the sheer power and energy of the filmmaking leap off the screen, as do pre-echoes of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Goodfellas, along with Scorsese’s love of pop music and movie-buffery.
Harvey Keitel, in his first major role, is the working-class guy from Little Italy, intelligent but uneducated, who hangs around with his buddies in drinking dens and smoky back rooms. When he meets a lovely middle-class blonde woman (Zina Bethune), he’s immediately smitten, and so is she – despite the fatal gulf between their backgrounds and assumptions.
Scorsese is often accused of downplaying the female roles in his films, which makes Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore all the more of a standout. His fourth feature, it centres on a deservedly Oscar-winning performance from Ellen Burstyn as a newly widowed 35-yearold who hits the road with her 11-yearold son, hoping to realise her dream of becoming a singer in Monterey.
En route she meets one really nasty guy (Keitel again) and one much nicer one (Kris Kristofferson). There’s great support from Diane Ladd as a foulmouthed waitress and Jodie Foster as a scarily precocious pre-teen. But the key relationship is between Alice and son Tommy (Alfred Lutter) – loving, funny, fractious, infuriating and convincing in a way that movie parent-kid relationships rarely are.
ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE
RATING: 4 stars
EXTRAS: Commentary, Making Of, Booklet
Director: Martin Scorsese; Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Mia Bendixsen; DVD release: March 27, 2017
WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR
RATING: 3 stars
EXTRAS: Commentary, Making Of, Booklet
Director: Martin Scorsese; Starring: Harvey Keitel, Zina Bethune, Anne Collette; DVD release: March 27, 2017
Dead or Alive Trilogy
If you’ve never seen a Takashi Miike film, this trilogy is a great place to start. Survive the infamous first 10 minutes and you’ll make it through the original. Continue to Dead or Alive 2: Birds and you’ll get a film that makes fun of you for liking the first one.
Stick around for Dead or Alive: Final and Miike hits you with a comedy Blade Runner rip-off about an anti-reproduction dictator. Exploitative, nonsensical gore-porn or postmodern cultural critique? Yep, all of that.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Commentary, Interviews, Booklet
Director: Takashi Miike; Starring: Riki Takeuchi, Show Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi; DVD, BD release: March 27, 2017
Directed by the blacklisted American filmmaker Cy Endfield (Zulu), this late-’50s British B-movie stars a terrific Stanley Baker as an ex-con who is one of the truck drivers forced to transport their loads at dangerous speeds for a crooked haulage company.
Benefiting from a fine ensemble cast (Herbert Lom, Peggy Cummins), the digitally restored Hell Drivers remains a dynamic and tough-minded thriller, with echoes of Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. Unexceptional extras.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Making Of, Interviews, Documentary
Director: Cy Endfield; Starring: Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom, Peggy Cummins; DVD, BD release: April 20, 2017
House: The Complete Collection
In 1986, director Steve Miner and producer Sean S. Cunningham – fresh off the Friday The 13th films – made House, a schlocky horror comedy of cheap chills and cheaper effects. With three sequels featuring zombie cowboys, undead killers and – yes – a possessed pizza, it’s a bonkers franchise from the heyday of horror, barmy yet charming.
Arrow Video delivers a typically brilliant boxset, with audio commentaries, new docs and House 3 uncut here for the first time on UK Blu-ray.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Commentary, Interviews, Books, Documentaries
Directors: Steve Miner, Ethan Wiley, James Isaac, Lewis Abernath; Starring: William Katt, Arye Gross, Lance Henriksen; Dual format release: April 27, 2017
Stake Land II
Having graduated to the likes of We Are What We Are and Cold in July after his original 2010 zombie-vampire horror did a whole lot with not much at all, director Jim Mickle is sadly absent from this sequel.
Left with the best bits of the cast (Nick Damici as Mister and Connor Paolo as Martin), about double the B-movie schlock, while only around half the grimness, incoming directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen manage to pull off a fan-friendly sequel that does the characters proud – even if it doesn’t have quite as much undead indie cred.
Directors: Dan Berk, Robert Olsen; Starring: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Laura Abramsen; DVD release: April 3, 2017