Out on April 17 and April 24
Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1952 classic gets the Criterion treatment. Henry Cavill star Nicholas Hoult in a Netflix war movie.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of The Life of Oharu, Sand Castle, The Accountant, Two Rode Together, King Kong, Ouija: Origin of Evil, A Street Cat Named Bob, I Am Not a Serial Killer, King Kong, and American Honey.
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The Life of Oharu
Kenji Mizoguchi’s study of Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka), a disgraced noblewoman in feudal Japan who is forced into prostitution, remains a bleak but piercing parable of suffering. Full of dark ironies, it shows how Oharu’s refinement only intensifies the sexism of the men who use and neglect her.
A master of deep-focus camera movement, Mizoguchi’s elaborate shots continually track Oharu but always hit further barriers to her happiness. Look out for an almost unrecognisable Toshirô Mifune.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurette, Essay
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi; Starring: Kinuyo Tanaka, Tsukie Matsuura, Ichirô Sugai; BD release: March 17, 2017
War is hell. But it’s not as bad as plumbing. Based on the real experiences of screenwriter and executive producer Chris Roessner, who served as a machine gunner in the Iraq War, Netflix’s drama stars Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road) as a lowly GI tasked with repairing the same desert water supply he helped destroy a few months earlier.
When Hoult’s Roessner stand-in is forced to recruit townsfolk to help with the broken pipeline, bad PR soon turns local relationships sour. As tensions erupt, Hoult’s young, inexperienced platoon find themselves fighting a scrappy, bloody battle on all sides.
Roessner writes himself well – a soldier who’s much too smart for war, because he listens to Wilco and looks smug during the basecamp bantz – and Hoult does a decent job of giving the film its emotional anchor. But Henry Cavill, as the shouty special-ops captain who just wants to blow shit up, is less impressive: merely shaving his head and growing a beard is not enough to make him look mean.
Fernando Coimbra (A Wolf at the Door) directs with procedural, authentic heft, but it’s never clear what Sand Castle is actually trying to say. Almost 15 years after the invasion of Iraq – and in a political climate that still hasn’t fully recovered – it’s not enough to not have a point.
Too respectful to get off the fence, the soft sell seems to be that war is generally sort-of bad and a little bit maybe pointless.
Director: Fernando Coimbra; Starring: Henry Cavill, Nicholas Hoult, Glen Powell; Netflix release: March 21, 2017
Ben Affleck goes full Rain Man in this over-plotted thriller from Gavin O’Connor (Warrior). He plays Christian Wolff, a high-functioning autistic number cruncher who uncooks books for dangerous criminal enterprises, while honing his Jason Bourne skills in his spare time.
When he takes on a legit client as cover, his world comes unstuck. Anna Kendrick co-stars in the very definition of a thankless role, but she’s long forgotten as Affleck’s permanently blank expression guides us through this far-fetched, flashback-drenched tale towards a dismal finale. Doing your tax return is more fun.
Director: Gavin O’Connor; Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons; DVD, BD, 4K, Digital HD release: March 13, 2017
Two Rode Together
Damned by its own director and over-shadowed by his next oater (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), John Ford’s revisionist western deserves rescuing from curio status. It’s a piercing twist on prejudice and white hypocrisy, with James Stewart (striking warm sparks with Richard Widmark’s cavalry man) excellent as a mercenary marshal retrieving white prisoners from the Comanches.
As a laconic opening stretch gives way to horror-style hysteria, Ford’s economical direction keeps the ironies and subtexts pointed. It’s not The Searchers, but then few films are. Modest extras.
EXTRAS: Video essay, Booklet
Director: John Ford; Starring: James Stewart, Richard Widmark, Shirley Jones; Dual format release: March 13, 2017
If you’ve never seen the original King Kong, you’ll need a little patience. First off, this release has restored the ‘Overture’: four minutes of Max Steiner’s music over an unchanging, grey-and-white abstract design. Great listening, but visually less than riveting.
After which, you’ve got half-an-hour or so of creaky dialogue (“Holy mackerel, what a show!”) and amateur-night acting. Neither of the joint helmers, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, had much reputation as actors’ directors, and it shows.
But then Kong appears – and you’re confronted with one of the enduring, iconic myths of cinema. Willis O’Brien, pioneering genius of stop-motion animation, created a tragically susceptible giant ape, who for all his massive strength is as touchingly vulnerable as his contemporary, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s monster. Kong’s three fights – with a T-rex, a giant serpent and a pterodactyl – are grippingly dynamic; his climactic rampage through the streets of New
York, demolishing streetcars, scaling the Empire State Building, grabbing biplanes out of the air, still out-impacts the later versions for all their technical sophistication. Not bad for an 18-inch model covered in bunny fur.
The film’s haunting ‘Beauty and the Beast’ atmosphere is enhanced by Steiner’s music, the first major original score of the sound era. Good to hear the late Ray Harryhausen on the commentary, but he doesn’t offer any great insights.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Trailers, Test footage, Deleted scenes
Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack; Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot; Dual format release: February 20, 2017
Ouija: Origin of Evil
American writer-director Mike Flanagan (Absentia, Oculus, Hush) is quietly proving himself to be the go-to guy for mid-budget horror. And his thoughtful prequel to 2014’s unloved Ouija is better than it has any right to be.
Following single mum/medium Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) and her daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) as they battle board game-related spirits, it’s creepy rather than terrifying but is never less than compelling. Generous extras include deleted scenes and a director commentary.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Making Of, Featurettes, Deleted scenes
Director: Mike Flanagan; Starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: February 27, 2017
A Street Cat Named Bob
James Bowen’s heart-tugging tale of how a stray tabby helped him get off the streets comes to the screen with his actual feline playing himself. Shame everything else in Roger Spottiswoode’s movie feels so inauthentic.
Luke Treadaway’s artfully tousled curls and a disregard for London geography signal its eagerness to play to mainstream (i.e. US) sensibilities. The lead’s whiny balladeering is another issue, though Ruta Gedmintas and Joanne Froggatt compensate as his girlfriend and social worker respectively.
EXTRAS: Making Of
Director: Robert Spottiswoode; Starring: Luke Treadaway, Bob the Cat, Ruta Gedmintas; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: February 27, 2017
I Am Not a Serial Killer
With a name like Max Records, it’s little surprise the former child star graduated to playing adolescent monster hunters. But John Wayne Cleaver is no clean-cut hero. He’s a death-obsessed sociopath who discovers his neighbour (Christopher Lloyd, compellingly creepy) may be connected to a spate of local murders.
Based on a 2009 Dan Wells novel, and shot on gorgeously gloomy 16mm by American Honey cinematographer Robbie Ryan, it’s a morbid and deliciously different beast.
EXTRAS: Short, Deleted scenes, Storyboards, Gallery
Director: Billy O’Brien; Starring: Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser; DVD, BD release: February 20, 2017
Brit director Andrea Arnold’s (Red Road, Fish Tank) first American foray is a triumph. It’s an endless summer road movie and coming-of-ager centred on Oklahoma teen Star (Sasha Lane), who hooks up with a hard-partying sales crew flogging magazine subscriptions across the Midwest.
Newcomer Lane excels, but Shia LaBeouf (as top-seller Jake) and Riley Keough (take-no-prisoners manager Krystal) are fab too. Factor in Robbie Ryan’s ace lensing, a crunching soundtrack and Arnold’s gift for drawing great turns from non-pros, and the 163-minute running time just flies by.
Director: Andrea Arnold; Starring: Sasha Lana, Shia LaBeouf; DVD, BD release: February 20, 2017