Out on January 8 and January 15
A horror icon returns to haunts us. A real-time thriller from Kathryn Bigelow.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of It, Detroit, A Ghost Story, Leatherface, Annabelle: Creation, New Jack City, Hope and Glory, Desert Hearts, Montparnasse 19, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and Jabberwocky.
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Take a powder, Annabelle. Clear the floor, Jigsaw. When it comes to 2017 horror offerings, one clown took them both to town. So much so, in fact, that It can now claim to be the most successful horror movie ever at the global box office. Box Office Mojo puts It’s global takings at $696 million, more than $250 million clear of The Exorcist (when not adjusting for inflation).
Not bad for a film that lost its original director (True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga) in pre-production and had a fondly remembered 1990 miniseries to live up to, the latter boasting Tim Curry’s most iconic screen performance outside of a certain Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
OK, so the first version of Stephen King’s 1986 novel – a 1,138-page doorstopper that’s the author’s longest read after his unabridged The Stand – hasn’t aged terrifically well. (Even Curry was disdainful of the stop-motion arachnid creature he turned into during a recent convention appearance.)
Yet it still casts enough of a pop-culture shadow for another It to initially seem, to some at least, slightly surplus to requirements. What’s more, there was a serious danger of King overkill in 2017, what with adaps of The Dark Tower, Gerald’s Game and The Mist. Besides, surely ‘creepy clowns’ are done and dusted now, after 2016’s brief social-media craze?
But anybody who approached Andy Muschietti’s makeover with scepticism was swiftly silenced by an opening sequence more chilling than a weekend on a glacier.
Was there a scarier cinematic sight in 2017 than Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård) peeking out from a storm drain, enticing seven-year-old Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to reach in and retrieve his cherished paper boat? As blood-curdling as that preliminary gambit is, however, It has frights to rival it – and not all of them emanate from Skarsgård’s white-faced harlequin with his chrome dome, yellow eyes and grotesque rictus grin.
Indeed, what Muschietti’s film proves especially adept at is detailing the everyday ordeals its seven youthful heroes have to grapple with in their deceptively placid hometown of Derry, Maine.
In this oppressively insular milieu, an overprotective mum, a predatory dad and a thug with a knife can prove as threatening as any shape-shifting sewer dweller, not least when they are prone to carving their initials into their victims’ stomachs or singeing their follicles with a flammable aerosol.
Small wonder that Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and lone female Beverly (Sophia Lillis) bond together to create ‘The Losers Club’. When the whole world is against you, you need all the friends you can get.
The presence of Wolfhard and the late 1980s setting make comparison to Stranger Things impossible to avoid. (References to Michael Jackson, Molly Ringwald and New Kids on the Block abound, while the passage of time is signalled by a cinema marquee that advertises Batman, Lethal Weapon 2 and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.)
Focus on that, though, and you’ll miss the ingenious nods to King’s other works – a Christine-themed t-shirt, for example, or a projector sequence that incorporates ideas from his 1990 novella The Sun Dog. Muschietti is not above referencing his own stuff either; the Modigliani-like woman who haunts Oleff’s Stanley bears more than a passing resemblance to the ghoulish wraith from his 2013 breakout Mama.
Any film whose protagonists go everywhere on bicycles, meanwhile, can’t help being indebted to Spielberg’s E.T., a film with which It has a lot more in common than just one titular letter.
Muschietti’s smartest decision is to concentrate solely on one half of King’s book, leaving the other – in which ‘The Losers’ reunite as adults to battle Pennywise again – for a sequel that’s pencilled for 2019. But given New Line’s previous success with Freddy Krueger, we’d be surprised if there aren’t plans to spin a franchise out of Skarsgård’s cackling bogeyman, a character that could enjoy a post-It afterlife to make Jason Voorhees proud.
After a year that saw Universal make a hash of launching a “dark universe” for its stable of monsters and Ridley Scott struggle to make a case for continuing the Alien series, it’s oddly heartening to see something as straightforward as a killer clown laughing all the way to the bank.
Blu-ray comes with a trio of featurettes on King, the kids and Skarsgård’s “eater of worlds” respectively, plus 11 deleted/extended scenes. Coulrophobes beware…
EXTRAS: Featurettes (BD), Deleted scenes
Director: Andy Muschietti; Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard; Digital HD release: December 19, 2017; BD, BD, 4K, Steelbook release: January 15, 2018
Refining the fractious journalese of Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s immersive dive into 1967’s Detroit race riots is so jittery the camera literally jumps at the sound of a gunshot. Bigelow shifts from dispassionate, city-wide docudrama into a real-time horror movie as the hellish events at the Algiers Hotel unfold.
Driven by outstanding performances from Will Poulter and John Boyega as the faces of, respectively, unrepentant racism and compromised morality, it’s a depressingly relevant look at the ‘how and when’ of hatred. Skimpy extras.
Director: Kathryn Bigelow; Starring: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith; Digital HD release: December 22, 2017; DVD, BD release: January 8, 2018
A Ghost Story
Yes, Casey Affleck spends the whole film under a bed sheet. Yes, it’s shot in a boxy, old-school home-movie aspect ratio. And yes, you have to watch Rooney Mara eat some pie for about 17 minutes. But writer-director David Lowery’s (Pete’s Dragon) afterlife-affirming tone poem brims with verve and originality.
A meditation on the time we have left and the spaces that we choose to spend it in, it’s a suitably haunting return to the Malick-y magic of Lowery’s previous Mara and Affleck-starrer Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.
EXTRAS: Featurette, Deleted scenes, Commentary
Director: David Lowery; Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara; DVD, BD release: January 15, 2018
Another origin story for a character that never needed one. Though at least this one has pedigree: French directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury made the excellent Inside (2007).
Following a gang of escaped mental patients on a cross-state rampage, the film replaces Tobe Hooper’s grubby poetry with scenes of crude, screechy panic – necrophilia included – as we watch everyone’s favourite cousinmarrying, chainsaw-wielding killer earn his stripes. “It’s like the work of a confused child!” says sheriff Stephen Dorff. Touché.
Directors: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury; Starring: Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Sam Strike; DVD release: January 8, 2018
This prequel to 2014’s demon doll pic Annabelle – itself a spin-off from The Conjuring – is a classy, well-crafted affair, with Lights Out director David F. Sandberg evoking the shadow-play chills of Val Lewton’s horror classics (Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie).
Set in the ’50s, it sees Anthony LaPaglia’s doll-maker turn his house into an orphanage – much to Annabelle’s glassy-eyed delight. Elegant, chilling, if given to splashes of ill-advised CGI.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Shorts, Featurettes, Deleted scenes
Director: David F. Sandberg; Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Samara Lee, Miranda Otto; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: December 4, 2017
New Jack City
With its yards of B-boy bling and short-lived swingbeat soundtrack, this is a lot more ‘old’ than ‘new’. Sandwiched between Spike Lee’s arthouse fare and the verité likes of Boyz N the Hood, Mario Van Peebles’ directorial debut plays like an updated Blaxploitation-thriller/musical.
Yet this crime saga about a Harlem cracklord’s (Wesley Snipes) rise and fall is an enduring hip-hop touchstone, with its taut action and committed cast: Ice-T, Chris Rock and the brilliantly ferocious Snipes.
EXTRAS: Art cards
Director: Mario Van Peebles; Starring: Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Allen Payne; Dual Format release: October 2, 2017
Hope and Glory
War is hell… unless you’re nine-year-old Billy (Sebastian Rice-Edwards), for whom the outbreak of WW2 means the adventure of his life. John Boorman’s semi-autobiographical evocation of his London childhood finds bliss amid the Blitz, as every bomb site becomes a playground.
Nommed for five Oscars, it’s honest, unsentimental and surprisingly funny. Better still, while Boorman’s celebration of jam, cricket and punting has a beating British heart, his Hollywood experience ensures there’s plenty of panache in the design and cinematography.
Director: John Boorman; Starring: Sarah Miles, David Hayman, Sebastian Rice-Edwards; BD release: November 30, 2017
With her debut feature, director Donna Deitch was determined to make “a movie about a lesbian relationship that didn’t end in tragedy”. She succeeded, superbly. Prim NY academic Vivian (Helen Shaver) arrives in 1959 Reno for a quickie divorce.
There she meets younger, free-spirited Cay (Patricia Charbonneau in her screen debut), who soon makes her feelings plain – and Vivian, despite herself, starts responding. Graced with stunning desert photography, this is a sensuous, emotionally generous film.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes, Booklet
Director: Donna Deitch; Starring: Helen Shaver, Patricia Charbonneau, Audra Lindley; BD release: November 20, 2017
Set in 1919 Paris, Jacques Becker’s (Le Trou) film traces the final months of genius painter and hopeless alcoholic Modigliani (Gérard Philipe). Becker only took on the project after his friend and fellow director Max Ophüls died.
The reluctance shows – this isn’t Becker at his best. But the black and white photography is sublime while the young Anouk Aimée is touchingly vulnerable as Modi’s lover Jeanne. Despite Philipe’s overacting, especially in the drunk scenes, we feel the artist’s frustration and despair.
EXTRAS: Documentary, Introduction
Director: Jacques Becker; Starring: Gérard Philipe, Lilli Palmer, Lea Padovani; DVD, BD release: November 27, 2017
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Samuel L. Jackson is the hitman and Ryan Reynolds the bodyguard assigned to ferry him to The Hague to testify against Gary Oldman’s dictator in Patrick Hughes’ middling Midnight Run rip-off. An Amsterdam canal chase thrills, but the limp characterisation – Jackson swears, Reynolds smarms – ensures this runs out of gas long before the end.
At least Salma Hayek has fun as Jackson’s just-as-vile wife; unfortunately she’s just about the only one who does.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Commentary, Deleted/Extended scenes (BD), Outtakes
Director: Patrick Hughes; Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman; DVD, BD release: December 11, 2017
There’s a certain amount of what might be called “flapping about” in Terry Gilliam’s solo directing debut, a side project from Python that’s nevertheless very Holy Grail-ish.
This medieval comedy, however, is richly evocative: Michael Palin, in gormless idiot mode, is the titular monster-hunter in this mud-and-gore-soaked living Brueghel painting, starring pretty much every British comedy actor from the era. Visually astonishing, it’s a crucial stepping stone to Time Bandits and The Fisher King.
EXTRAS: Documentary, Alternate opening, Interviews, Essay, Commentary
Director: Terry Gilliam; Starring: Michael Palin, Harry H. Corbett, John Le Mesurier; BD release: November 20, 2017