Out on 14 November and 21 November
Spielberg’s Dahl adaptation goes big. Justin Lin boards the Star Trek franchise. An insight into what your pets do when you’re not around (clue: they talk like Louis CK and Kevin Hart).
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of The BFG, Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond, Chevalier, The Secret Life of Pets, The Blue Dahlia, Dr. Strange, and The Last King.
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Does Steven Spielberg’s return to family film prove he can’t speak the language of his audience’s inner child anymore? The disappointing box-office returns might suggest as much, but the rich, warm film itself is only a let-down if you wanted an up-scaled E.T. and no more.
Less a failed stab at recapturing old magic than a sweet, sad fable dispatched from old age to the alien country of youth, The BFG speaks a children’s movie language we may not always recognise: but “swiggle” your ears closer and its whisperings can still move and amaze.
Granted, you can see why viewers may have been flummoxed when they didn’t get E.T. reheated. Spielberg’s first Roald Dahl adaptation reunites him with E.T. writer Melissa Mathison (and, of course, E.T. composer John Williams). And it focuses on a wrinkly old-timer who befriends a grieving child at a tender age: in this case Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), an orphan growing up in the E.T.-ish era of “Ronnie and Nancy” name-checks.
Other echoes of prime Spielberg linger. Proving he can still splice fear and wonder, the scenes of Sophie gazing up at a shadowy figure as she’s plucked from her orphanage recall young Barry in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the view from the Jeep window in Jurassic Park.
Yet as the BFG (Mark Rylance) bounds off-map and into Giant Country, Spielberg steers into freshly, quietly contemplative terrain. Holding the pace steady, he and Mathison give Sophie and the BFG time to become acquainted, aware that the “titchy little snapperwhipper” and the “old sage and onions” come from alien worlds. Spielberg has often explored communication across a divide – Close Encounters’ music, E.T.’s halting grammar – yet the BFG’s “twitchtickling” language issues offer a particularly, playfully resonant twist on the theme.
The use of CGI likewise reflects a fresh vitality in Spielberg. The giant’s home clutter seems tactile and lived-in, a detailed backdrop that is never allowed to distract from the story of a growing friendship. When Sophie joins the BFG on a dream-catching trip, the Close Encounters-ish flurries of light and magic never override her joy in discovery.
Pinpoint casting makes doubly sure of it. Rylance deserves every superlative: resisting the urge to act up to the temptations of mo-cap fantasy, he brings the BFG down to intimate size with his slow speech patterns, musical cadences and sweet-toned eyes. Barnhill does herself proud in exalted company, aided by a script that doesn’t saddle her with the weaponised quipping of a zillion tween-pics.
In this context, The BFG’s nastier giants lumber in like renegades from a Peter Jackson Tolkien film, as if to hint at a kind of movie that Spielberg did not want to make. He has fun with them, but their “horrigust” appetites aren’t over-fed.
Deeper shadows loom from Spielberg’s own films. Adding to Dahl’s narrative, Mathison gives the BFG the memory of a boy he lost – a boy with a red coat. While it might be ill-judged to say the BFG is an out-sized Oskar Schindler, agonising over the departed, there is a suggestion of life’s wounds at work here.
Dahl devoted the book to his daughter Olivia, whose death at seven from measles encephalitis left him tortured over his inability to save her. Mathison, who died of cancer in 2015, may also have approached the script with mortality in mind.
The tender bond between Sophie and the BFG seems to glow with protective yearning in this context. The scene in which Sophie leaps from her window, trusting the BFG to catch her, recalls earlier Spielberg leaps of faith – such as E.T.’s bike-flights, or the scene in which Sam Neill begs the boy to jump from the fence in Jurassic Park. Yet it’s also a gorgeous grace note in its own right; and Spielberg’s faith in Rylance’s crinkly smile of assurance makes it all the more graceful.
The Buckingham Palace comedy routines are equally well-judged. As the Queen (a brisk, warm Penelope Wilton) and her retinue’s blazing saddles ripen the air with “whizzpoppers”, Spielberg trumps any fears that he’s looking backwards and shows signs of evolution in the least likely of places: imagine how badly he might have laboured the flatulent farce in 1941.
If Dahl’s nasty streak is downplayed, that’s simply an index of how lovingly Spielberg protects the film’s core from its noisier eruptions. The BFG does not hit the game-changing heights of E.T. and Close Encounters, but it stands proud among them as a warm dream blown into the ears of the non-cynical.
Its gentle touch is a loving anomaly among louder films. And if the cool US reception put you off, think of the box-office concerns as mere “puddlenuts” and take a leap of faith.
Director: Steven Spielberg; Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton; DVD, BD, 3D BD, VOD release: November21, 2016
The year’s most controversial blockbuster or its most interesting reboot? While Star Wars revisits a galaxy far, far, away, and Marvel and DC insist on joining every super-dot, Paul Feig brings something progressive to Hollywood franchises. For all its callbacks to its ’80s vintage, here’s a film confident to let fresh faces be the heroes.
And did we mention they’re not men? ’Busters first and women second, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon are smart, capable and – especially McKinnon’s weird, wired Holtzmann – very funny.
If Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold play safe replicating the original’s narrative beats, it only highlights how little this resembles Ivan Reitman’s take. That was shot and structured as an adventure with laughs, while this is foremost a comedy. The looser the film is, the funnier it gets, letting the cast – including a revelatory Chris Hemsworth as dimwit secretary Kevin – put the ghosts of 1984 to rest.
There’s even more to enjoy on a loaded disc. A c(h)atty Feig/Dippold commentary baits the online trolls while half an hour of alternative takes serve up a smorgasbord of non-sequiturs. The extended edition, meanwhile, introduces a boyfriend for Wiig, the return of “don’t cross the streams” and even an explanation for why the ghosts are so mad. “They’re mostly dudes.” Figures.
EXTRAS: Extended edition (BD), Commentaries, Featurettes, Deleted/alternative scenes (BD), Gag reel (BD)
Director: Paul Feig; Starring: Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon; DVD, BD, 3D BD, 4K release: November 21, 2016
Star Trek Beyond
Three movies into its reboot, Star Trek has become old-fashioned again. Giving up on trying to be Star Wars, the original space opera finally feels comfortable in its own skin.
Director Justin Lin delivers a decent baddie (Idris Elba), breathless set-pieces and a rollicking good adventure that feels straight off the telly box. These are the voyages of the Enterprise, long may they continue. Extras include affectionate tributes to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.
EXTRAS: Deleted scenes (BD), Featurettes, Gag reel (BD), Music video
Director: Justin Lin; Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban; DVD, BD, 3D BD, 4K release: November 21, 2016
Flatpack assembly skills, cleaning prowess and cholesterol levels. These are just some of the tests the six men aboard an Aegean fishing trip must score well in to be named ‘Best in General’, having bored of bickering over angling abilities.
Winner of Best Film at the 2015 London Film Festival, the third movie from Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari dryly rips into the male ego’s desperation to secure alpha status. Often painfully straight-faced, but with two genuinely laugh-out-loud scenes, it’s an on-the-mark anti-buddy movie.
Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari; Starring: Vangelis Mourikis, Nikos Orphanos, Yorgos Pirpassopoulos; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: November 14, 2016
The Secret Life of Pets
One of the box-office successes of the year ($850m worldwide), Pets has an easy sell – who hasn’t wondered about their critter’s private behaviour? But beyond the extremely entertaining vignettes that bookend the film, the concept is squandered on a derivative plot: it’s basically Dog Story, as jealous pooch Max (Louis C.K.) ends up lost on the streets of NYC with his owner’s new adoptee.
The chases will entertain kids but there’s less for adults. Too few of the characters make an impact and it feels like it’d be better served as a series of shorts.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Short films
Directors: Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud; Starring: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart; DVD, BD, 3D, Digital HD release: November 14, 2016
The Blue Dahlia
Scripted by Raymond Chandler, Dahlia has naval war hero Alan Ladd coming home to find his faithless wife partying it up. So when she’s murdered, he’s naturally prime suspect. This being a Ladd film, Veronica Lake’s on hand to console him, and William Bendix is memorable as his unstable buddy.
The plot’s as twisty as you’d expect, and if the ending doesn’t quite hang together, blame the US Navy, who vetoed the original choice of killer. George Marshall’s direction needs a touch more noir.
EXTRAS: Introduction, Selected scene commentary, Radio version
Director: George Marshall; Starring: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix; BD release: September 19, 2016
As you might’ve guessed, this 1978 TV movie is worlds apart from the Benedict Cumberbatch blockbuster. This Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten) is a lothario doctor discovered by an old wizard mentor and slowly convinced of his mystical abilities (no broken hands and intensive training here).
He then travels to different astral planes via disco lights and a synth soundtrack to battle with evil foe Morgan LeFay (Jessica Walter). Sadly, what could have been a fun watch succumbs to low production values, terrible dubbing and ’70s psychedelia.
Director: Philip DeGuere Jr; Starring: Peter Hooten, Clyde Kusatsu, Jessica Walter; DVD release: October 17, 2016
The Last King
In 13th Century Norway, evil plots are afoot. King Håkon is poisoned by his step-mother at the instigation of her lover, who then usurps the throne, while Håkon’s infant son is spirited away by his mother and a few loyal warriors. A scheming bishop, in league with the Danes, sends his minions in pursuit.
Cue heroically defiant speeches, multiple chase scenes on skis (or horseback), battles galore and huge expanses of snow-covered pine trees. It’s all a bit Nordic Game of Thrones, but Nils Gaup (Pathfinder) directs with brio, and the action sequences are vividly staged.
Director: Nils Gaup; Starring: Michael Aasen, Anders Dahlberg, Jonathan Oskar Dahlgren; DVD, VOD release: October 3, 2016