Out on June 26 and July 3
A crowd-pleaser with maths appeals. A recount of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. A David Bowie vampire movie.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of Hidden Figures, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Patriots Day, The Hunger, Phenomena, XX, The Entity, Hard Times, Melody, Manchester by the Sea, Letter to Brezhnev, .
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Welcome to 1961. With Russia inching ahead in the space race, NASA is desperate to put a man into orbit. Helping the mission off the ground are African-American maths mavens Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), whose colour and gender see them wrestling with bigotry no less than big numbers…
A crowd-pleaser par excellence, Theodore Melfi’s box-office smash (and awards botherer) handles its historical drama with a light touch. Which cuts both ways. It’s too workmanlike to offer surprises, its emotional, comedic and musical beats (retro soundtrack from producer Pharrell) playing in predictable rotation. But it’s also rarely worthy or bogged down in head-hurty maths.
Rocket-boosted by the leads’ easy charisma, it unashamedly aims for uplift, without monologuing it into the ground. And it gratifies to see the big white names (scratchy-but-decent bossman Kevin Costner; complacent supervisor Kirsten Dunst; Jim Parsons basically playing a more dickish Sheldon) playing second fiddle in a major mainstreamer.
Extras miss a trick by not regrouping the ladies for the chat-track (it’s a Melfi/Henson two-hander); elsewhere the director explains how he chose Figures over a gig called… Spider-Man: Homecoming.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Making Of, Featurette, Gallery
Director: Theodore Melfi; Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe; Digital HD release: June 18, 2017; DVD, BD, 4K release: July 3, 2017
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Father and son coroners Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch choose the wrong body to investigate in André Øvredal’s (Trollhunter) macabre horror movie. In a smart, original tale that dissects the genre’s confluence of the fleshy and the forbidden – especially the overused trope of violence against women – the perfectly preserved corpse (Olwen Kelly) reveals a selection of grislier secrets with each incision.
Øvredal shifts adroitly from detailed, not-for-the-squeamish forensic procedural into well-delivered scares, aided by committed performances and some appropriately scalpel-sharp editing.
Director: André Øvredal; Starring: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: June 26, 2017
Mark Wahlberg reteams with filmmaker Peter Berg for their third collaboration based on a true story, this time recounting the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Wahlberg plays fictional cop Tommy Saunders, who acts as tragic witness, key investigator and Boston everyman during the subsequent manhunt.
Berg wrings real heart-in-mouth tension from several set-pieces, but frequently mishandles the tone, often compromising this otherwise taut thriller with heavy-handed tributes and melodramatic pandering.
Director: Peter Berg; Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons; DVD, BD release: June 26, 2017
OK, The Hunger is a vampire movie. But given a cast headed by Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie and Susan Sarandon – and with Schubert, Ravel and Delibes melodious on the soundtrack – you can tell this won’t be your average schlock-horror fang-fest.
Directing his first feature, Tony Scott ladles on the style, all moody shadows and gauzy billowing curtains, kicking off in a New York nightclub with Bauhaus singing ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. This, you can sense, is a film to be admired for its sheer classy visual panache… but not taken too seriously.
Deneuve plays 3,000-year-old Egyptian vampire Miriam, whose latest consort (Bowie) is showing ominous signs of bodily deterioration after a mere 200 years. Sarandon is the geriatrics specialist he consults – and who soon supplants him in Deneuve’s affections.
Highlights are some elegantly sensual nude encounters between the two women – and a scene in Sarandon’s waiting room where Bowie, courtesy of impressive work by the make-up team, ages 50 years in 10 minutes.
Despite the NYC setting, The Hunger was largely shot in London, with just a few Manhattan exteriors for local colour. Eighty-five-year-old silent star Bessie Love, who started out acting for D.W. Griffith in 1916, takes a tiny final role; and the young Willem Dafoe, in only his third movie, gets a single line as a predatory street-punk who tries to hit on Sarandon.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Postcards
Director: Tony Scott; Starring: Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon; Dual format release: April 17, 2017
Giallo maestro Dario Argento (Deep Red, Suspiria) brings the crazy in this cult item from the tail end of his ’70s and ’80s golden stretch. A pre-Labyrinth Jennifer Connelly, in her first leading role, stars as an American teen in Swiss Transylvania with a telepathic connection to insects, who must hunt a killer of young girls.
It’s ho-hum stuff, but an extreme final act partially redeems it. This version comes with a typically hefty Arrow package: three cuts of the film, visual essay on all three, CD soundtrack…
EXTRAS: Alternate versions, Commentary, Documentary, Visual essay, Music video, CD, Booklet
Director: Dario Argento; Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence, Daria Nicolodi; BD release: May 8, 2017
A horror anthology by female filmmakers, XX is long overdue – even if it feels more like four hit-and-miss shorts than one big statement. Jovanka Vuckovic’s slight opener ‘The Box’ gets things off to a bad start, but Annie ‘St. Vincent’ Clark’s superb Lynchian black comedy ‘The Birthday Party’ more than makes up for it.
Roxanne Benjamin’s Scooby-Doo-esque slasher ‘Don’t Fall’ stalls things again, but then comes Karyn Kusama’s (Jennifer’s Body ) elegant, edgy ‘Her Only Living Son’, a short crying out for expansion.
Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, St Vincent; Starring: T Natalie Brown, Jonathan Watton, Peter DaCunha; DVD, Digital HD release: May 8, 2017
Picketed by feminist groups and considered one of the scariest movies of all time by Martin Scorsese, this is a creepy and divisive cult shocker. “Inspired by true events,” it sees Barbara Hershey’s single mum repeatedly raped by a violent, furniture-chewing poltergeist, before a (frankly unethical) shrink and a bunch of (frankly irresponsible) parapsychologists attempt to save her mind.
It just about escapes its ‘grindhouse Ghostbusters’ rep thanks to a solid, sensitive performance from Hershey. A surprisingly extras-less Eureka release.
Director: Sidney J. Furie; Starring: Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa; BD release: May 15, 2017
Walter Hill’s debut is also known as The Streetfighter, which aptly describes the story of Depression-era drifter Charles Bronson, star pugilist for promoter James Coburn. Yet Hard Times better captures the film’s mood, with Hill looking beyond exploitation-pic barriers to survey the culture and economics of the bare-knuckle business.
Hill’s lean direction wastes nothing, with plenty to admire in the fight choreography, period detail and the stars’ chemistry, even if the film is stolen by veteran Strother Martin as a dandified medic.
EXTRAS: Interviews, Booklet
Director: Walter Hill; Starring: Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Jill Ireland; Dual format release: July 3, 2017
Alan Parker’s first script, this London tale of puppy love reunites the stars of Oliver! and weaves its innocence around a dreamy soundtrack of Bee Gees songs. Mark Lester plays the local posh lad who befriends troublemaker Ornshaw (Jack Wild) then falls for Tracy Hyde’s titular schoolgirl.
Laying the groundwork for Parker’s own Bugsy Malone, it’s a nostalgic delight – not least seeing Lester and Wild spark up their old Oliver/Artful Dodger chemistry. A little gem that deserves rediscovery.
Director: Waris Hussein; Starring: Mark Lester, Tracy Hyde, Jack Wild; DVD, BD release: May 8, 2017
Manchester by the Sea
An understated, authentic-feeling script and carefully drawn hometown tensions complement Casey Affleck’s Oscar-ed turn as a loner torn between past tragedy and his newly fatherless nephew. Quietly beautiful rather than showy, the film’s seascapes and wistful music subtly add to its emotional heft.
A slender but insightful extras package includes Michelle Williams on how a key scene brought tears from both actors and director Kenneth Lonergan. The latter’s chat-track carefully unpacks the creative decisions that make this tender, wintry drama so piercing.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurette, Deleted scenes
Director: Kenneth Lonergan; Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: May 15, 2017
Letter to Brezhnev
Inspired by his experiences of picking up sailors in his native Liverpool, writer Frank Clarke (until then of TV’s Brookside) ended up penning one of the key British films of the ’80s: a feisty homage to working-class grit, helmed by Chris Bernard, that dared to suggest a life behind the Iron Curtain might be preferable to one beneath the Iron Lady’s jackboot.
Peter Firth, Alexandra Pigg, Alfred Molina and Clarke’s sibling Margi make up the romantic fab four whose night on the town has unexpected consequences for all.
EXTRAS: Making Of, Commentaries, Interviews, Gallery, Booklet
Director: Chris Bernard; Starring: Peter Firth, Alfred Molina, Tracy Marshak-Nash; Dual format release: April 24, 2017
In a sombre 1981 sci-fi, Sean Connery’s hard-arshed marshal inveshtigates a rash of mysterioush deaths on a mining colony off Jupiter – but evil bean counters are out to stop him.
If the plot is High Noon in space, the oily aesthetic, with its industrial clank and grime, bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain xenomorph-based affair – it even borrows Alien composer Jerry Goldsmith. And while not a patch on the former, it’s nevertheless a great-looking (and sounding) slow-boiler.
Director: Peter Hyams; Starring: Sean Connery, Frances Sternhagen, Peter Boyle; Triple format release: May 8, 2017
Jackie Chan announced his retirement from action films in 2012, and then in characteristic style carried on making them anyway. His latest is a scrappy comedy kung-fu hybrid that looks and feels exactly like something he would have made in the mid ’80s, for better or worse.
Chan stars as the leader of a rag-tag Robin Hood gang who take on the Japanese railroad during World War 2, with all the familiar choreographed chaos in tow. Awkwardly written and messily stitched together it may be, but watching Chan throw himself off things never gets old.
Director: Ding Sheng; Starring: Jackie Chan, Jaycee Chan, Zitao Huang; DVD, BD release: May 8, 2017