Out on 11 July and 18 July
A fear flick with goats and darkness. The ‘80s movie that will never die. A high-rise building turns to turmoil.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of The Witch, Highlander, High-Rise, Hail Caesar!, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Evolution, Allegiant, and Burroughs: The Movie.
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In the best recent horrors, primal fear is a serious business. While It Follows applied a Lynch-level intensity to the slasher genre’s preoccupation with teen sex, Robert Eggers’ slow-dread debut lifts the pointy hats of fairytale, Disney and history to find themes powerful enough to bridge past/present anxieties: fear, family, guilt and fundamentalism.
Compared to lighter modern horrors, Eggers’ 17th-century folk tale looks startlingly original. Just as its puritanical family are exiled from society to a seemingly witch-infested forest’s edge, so Eggers ventures out on a limb. Where the likes of Unfriended log on to cyberfears and mount found-footage riffs, Eggers favours high-art compositions, avant-scoring (Mark Korven) and a script hewn from historical vernacular. Stick “Thou shalt be home by candletime tomorrow” on your Twitter feed.
There’s a temptation to chuckle at such high seriousness: the Beeb’s spooky-comic series Inside No. 9 did in a recent episode parodying witchy terrors and demon animals. But Eggers ensures no one laughs, not even at the talking goat or the suspiciously twitchy bunny. If the jump scare is often horror’s release valve for pent-up tension, Eggers slyly pulps even that indulgence. As Anya Taylor-Joy’s perfectly pitched teenage Thomasin entertains her baby brother with a game of peekaboo, the awful pay-off makes boo-scares look like child’s play.
As we see the baby whisked away by a hooded hag, Eggers pulls off a double whammy. Neither purely tangible nor merely metaphorical, The Witch stokes tension between the two extremes. Eggers isn’t afraid to show witchery at work, but he sustains the possibility that everything is cooking in this family’s God-fearing fever dreams. As Thomasin frets over playing on Sunday and her brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) trembles with his sinful urges, Eggers suggests patriarchal, puritanical oppression can attract demons.
Happily, Eggers is blessed with the crack cast needed to sell such charged material. As father William, Ralph Ineson’s accent makes goading work of the script’s Yoda-isms (“What went we…?”), almost daring you to make joshing reference to his role as The Office’s Finchy; Kate Dickie, meanwhile, banks a near-best in her collection of grieving mothers who are at ravaged one with their cruel surroundings (see Red Road, Couple In a Hole).
Yet the show-stealer is Taylor-Joy, a newcomer bound for stardom by the time of the finale’s divisive – but rhythmically magnetic – crescendo. As for Eggers, his career lift-off provokes near-sacrilegious thoughts: his proposed remake of Nosferatu might actually be something. A good-looking Blu-ray, but who magicked away all the extras from the US edition?
Director: Robert Eggers; Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Julian Richings; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: July 18, 2016
Time to toss your vanilla DVD and your Immortal Edition Blu. If there really can be only one, then this 30th Anniversary Edition is it (for now), the glorious 4K restoration detailing each strand of silvery hair in Sean Connery’s rat-tail, while extras include an all-new Making Of, deleted scenes, and commentary by Aussie helmer Russell Mulcahy. As The Kurgan would undoubtedly say, “Hello, pretty.”
Some dodgy climactic effects aside, the movie stands up surprisingly well, given the none-more-’80s feel. Although newcomers might not regard Christopher Lambert’s ‘Scottish’ accent, Connery’s ‘Spanish’ tongue or the Queen soundtrack with quite the same fondness as those who grew up with Highlander. No matter: the action is fast and furiously slick, slipping between 1985 New York and 16th-century Scotland as Connor MacLeod from the clan MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) learns that he is an Immortal, destined to cross swords with others of his kind until only he and arch-nemesis Victor Kruger (Clancy Brown, iconic) remain to fight for ‘the Prize’.
Mulcahy, an MTV man, brings pizazz from the off, with SkyCam shots of a wrestling match at Madison Square Garden followed by a duel in the arena’s subterranean car park (actually a fruit market in Earl’s Court) that broke records for the number of cuts in a reel. Such buffing and burnishing is the norm, with Mulcahy confessing they even polished the bum of the actress playing Candy the prostitute. It should all be an empty, mishmash-y mess – fantasy, action and romance; bagpipes and Freddie Mercury – but it’s, well, kind of magic.
The five deleted scenes are sans dialogue and really just longer cuts of existing material, while the Making Of packs plenty of info into its two hours but features no Mulcahy, Lambert or Brown. The first two can at least be found elsewhere, Lambert sitting down for a 20-minute chat and Mulcahy delivering a sober commentary (“I just wanted to do a rock-ballin’ comic-book movie, and have Queen sing”).
Best in show, though, is producer William N. Panzer. Explaining how UCLA student Gregory Widen’s much darker original script was rewritten to introduce romance and humour, he stresses that Widen nonetheless deserves all of the credit for the core concept of duelling Immortals: “It’s remained through five movies, an anime, 140 hours of TV, 40 half-hour cartoons, tens of millions of dollars of merchandise, conventions, all that crap...”
EXTRAS: Commentary, Interviews, Making Of, Deleted scenes
Director: Russell Mulcahy; Starring: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, Roxanne Hart; DVD, BD release: July 11, 2016
Ben Wheatley puts the ‘brutal’ into Brutalist architecture with his provocative ’70s-set sci-fi drama, in which a fancy new concrete skyscraper sets off an escalating class war between tenants. Grabbing J.G. Ballard’s chilly dystopian novel by the throat, Wheatley and his screenwriter partner Amy Jump spice it up with lashings of stylish shock action.
“Ben is a guerrilla filmmaker,” insists Tom Hiddleston in one of the copious bonus interviews, noting how Wheatley leaves his cast free to play because “he wants to capture, not manipulate things”. Accordingly, his eagle-eyed camera plunges greedily into the orgies, dog-killings and affrays that erupt between penthouse-dwelling toffs and the unruly ‘lower levels’, as block civilisation gradually breaks down.
Cool and contained in its first half, the film checks out the tower’s inflammable, promiscuous social mix via Hiddleston’s lonely Dr Laing, who pings between arrogant social-engineering architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), Sienna Miller’s cynical party girl, and dissatisfied doco-maker Wilder (Luke Evans). By the time the flat-dwellers are full-on feral however, the story takes a back seat to total immersion in their rubbish-strewn looting and shagging.
Startling scenes (a hijacked pool party, an arcing suicide, a harrowing rape) explode within the film. Deftly edited by Wheatley and Jump, they have a restless elegance, but give off puzzlingly few emotional reverberations. There’s a savage ’70s vibe here, hints of Cronenberg’s Shivers skyscraper, Ken Russell’s Tommy-era excess, and Boorman’s Zardoz rebellion. Yet it all complements Wheatley’s singular vision and adds to the film’s potent atmosphere, along with Clint Mansell’s Moog-music. Looming concrete balconies and pillars (shot in a ’70s leisure centre) also exude a futuristic menace.
It’s a piece explicitly without heroes and villains, yet Hiddleston’s vulnerable loner rivets your attention, while Luke Evan’s pugnacious Oliver Reed-styled rebel manages to incite both empathy and repulsion. The film’s nifty period styling (dig that shag-piled luxury penthouse) boasts a moody colour palette, whose tangerine pool and marmalade skies pop nicely on the Blu-ray transfer. Yet it’s also surprisingly topical: in our era of luxury developments and ‘poor doors’, High-Rise looks less like a dystopian fable and more like a cautionary tale.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Interviews, Featurette, Easter Egg
Director: Ben Wheatley; Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans; DVD, BD release: July 18, 2016
Hollywood in the ’50s proves to be the perfect playground for the Coens. Joel and Ethan meld noir, pastiche, comedy, and conspiracy theorising to concoct their most joyfully funny film since The Big Lebowski. Hail, Caesar! is very much an ensemble piece, flitting through a cross-section of the studio system at (the fictitious) Capitol Pictures.
The scaffolding keeping everything upright is Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix, a real-life (but heavily fictionalised) ‘fixer’ tasked with covering up scandals, and making sure the studio runs like clockwork. Among the egos he has to contend with are A-listers played by A-listers: George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum… all of them exuding old-school star power.
But the funniest vignette of the lot features the pairing of Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes, respectively playing a western star broadening his image and a flabbergasted director (their back-and-forth over a “simple” line delivery is hysterical). Ehrenreich’s comic chops and cowboy swagger bode well for his future as a certain nerf herder.
Some characters do flit by all too briefly; it feels like there’s easily enough material here for a miniseries. With its freewheeling subplots and motley supporting players, Hail, Caesar! recalls the likes of Lebowski and The Hudsucker Proxy, but you don’t have to be a Coens aficionado to enjoy it: skimpy, Coens-free featurettes aside, this is a golden-age treat for anyone who loves movies about movies.
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen; Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes; DVD, BD release: July 11, 2016
HERE COMES MR. JORDAN
When boxer Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) crashes his plane, he finds himself in Heaven. The catch? His death is premature and now cosmic concierge Mr Jordan (Claude Rains) must find Joe a new body. Made in 1941, Hollywood’s first attempt at this oft-filmed premise instantly nails the supernatural subgenre’s key elements, but Alexander Hall’s direction lacks the panache of superior entries like Britain’s A Matter of Life and Death.
Despite an ambitious story that hops between thriller, comedy and sports pic, plus Rains’ typically terrific Jordan, it’s told in such a safe, straightforward way that even the obvious wartime resonance is muted.
EXTRAS: Interviews, Radio adaptation, Essay
Director: Alexander Hall; Starring: Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes; BD release: June 20, 2016
On an unnamed island populated only by small boys and young women, 10-year-old Nicolas (Max Brebant) begins to question his existence when he finds a body in the ocean and is taken to a strange hospital, where getting well doesn’t appear to be the goal.
More eerie art film than outright horror, French writer/director Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s spartan puzzler has atmosphere to spare, featuring long shots of billowing sea life and an almost Cronenbergian fascination with crustaceans. But it’s also close to impenetrable, so the impatient need not apply.
Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic; Starring: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier; DVD release: June 20, 2016
Part three of this YA series, Robert Schwentke’s Allegiant comes from the first half of Veronica Roth’s trilogy-closing book. And this dreary sci-fi doesn’t half suffer from the split, as Tris (Shailene Woodley) and the gang (Theo James, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller) run into Jeff Daniels’ conniving leader at the Bureau of Genetic Welfare.
A wall-scaling escape is the film’s high point; the remainder of the story is devoid of tension or style. Woodley and James have zero chemistry, too, which hardly bodes well for next year’s big finale, Ascendant.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes
Director: Robert Schwentke; Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: July 11, 2016
BURROUGHS: THE MOVIE
As rough, smart and enigmatic as the man himself, Howard Brookner’s landmark doc feels as vital a piece of the William S. Burroughs puzzle as the writer’s work. Brookner follows the beat pioneer back through his tragic life – shuffling around old New York haunts, mixing extracts of his novels with methadone-addled memories and chatting with friends including Allen Ginsberg, Francis Bacon and Patti Smith.
Coming to Criterion with an unpolished new transfer and a woozy chat-track with (then sound guy) Jim Jarmusch, it’s getting more essential with age.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Interviews, Outtakes, Experimental edit, Essay
Director: Howard Brookner; Starring: Mortimer Burroughs, William S. Burroughs, Lucien Carr; BD release: July 11, 2016