Out on 9 January and 16 January
David Mackenzie delivers heist stakes. Pedro tackles the short stories of Alice Munro. Taika Waititi's great outdoors movie.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of Hell or High Water, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Julieta, Donnie Darko, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, Ben-Hur, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari, Assault on Precinct 13, To Live and Die in LA, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Shallows, The Squid and the Whale, and Pete’s Dragon.
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Hell or High Water
On its theatrical release, David Mackenzie’s flavoursome heist movie with contemporary western stylings was hailed as some sort of saviour of cinema. No doubt worn down by a summer of mostly disappointing blockbusters, critics made for this tale of two cowboy brothers taking down a series of banks in west Texas like it was the only waterhole in the desertscapes they’d just been transported to.
This, they exclaimed, is what American cinema did so well in the ’90s, when independent film thrived and studios had their own boutique outlets (such as Fox Searchlight Pictures and Paramount Vantage).
And sure enough, in this age of $250m spectacles, cheap-as-chips indies and not nearly enough in between, Hell or High Water offers stars immersed in character roles, taut-but-textured storytelling, wildcat thrills, dialogue to be chewed on like tobacco leaves (“He wouldn’t know God if he crawled up his pant leg and bit him on the pecker”), crackerjack violence, lopsided levity, and a wide streak of sorrow. All for $12m.
What’s more, goddammit, it has something to say, with the brothers only hitting branches of the Texas Midland Bank, which is about to foreclose on their late mother’s ranch. Here, our desperadoes are born of real desperation.
But should Hell or High Water really be anointed the poster child of a rare US cinema aimed at adults? Probably not. The truth, of course, is that today’s cinema is far from dead, as some would have you believe. Despite the funding vacuum, a clutch of excellent films somehow emerge each year (try American Honey, Arrival and the upcoming Manchester by the Sea and La La Land on for size), while not all tentpole movies are bad.
Far from it – in 20 years’ time, the carefully constructed MCU will surely be regarded as a golden era for blockbuster filmmaking. So best view Hell or High Water not as representative, but rather as it was intended, which is to say a smart genre film comprising brain and brawn.
The brothers, Toby and Tanner Howard, are respectively played by Chris Pine (channelling Robert Ryan) and Ben Foster. The former is smart and measured, the latter a career criminal with a crazed glint in his eye, so it comes as a surprise that it’s Toby who’s railroaded his bro into this spree of heists. When we first meet them, they’re clad in ski-masks, conducting a frenzied hold-up. Plodding in their wake is Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a grizzled Texas Ranger dressed in Stetson and sunglasses.
This, naturally, is his last job before retirement, and there’s an elegiac ache to his every deduction and decision, his mind taking snapshots for posterity even as he ribs his Native American-Mexican partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) with ‘affectionate’ racial slurs.
As with the Howard boys, their long-time relationship feels lived-in, authentic; and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) is happy to hitch the narrative to railings outside diners as these good ol’ boys pause to chew the cud. One such pit stop allows for a delicious exchange with a cranky, craggy waitress.
“I’ve been working here for 44 years,” she states. “Ain’t nobody ever ordered nothing but a T-bone steak and baked potato. Except one time, this asshole from New York ordered a trout, back in 1987. We ain’t got no goddamned trout.”
Such dialogue could have been scribbled by Ethan Coen, and the actress who aces the scene, Margaret Bowman, played a motel clerk in No Country for Old Men, a movie that Hell or High Water evokes (along with John Sayles’ superb neo-western Lone Star). But with its theme of land, oil and rampant capitalism, it also conjures the film that No Country beat to Best Picture in 2008, There Will Be Blood, albeit in more user-friendly genre packaging.
For a film so determined to inhabit its hardscrabble world of flyblown ghost towns haunted by debt-relief billboards, to smear the line between right and wrong, and to communicate its anti-heroes’ palpable resentment and anger while honouring genre tropes and mythology, Hell or High Water deserves to score a wad of disc extras.
Instead it’s somewhat short-changed: a trio of featurettes take a quick count of the rich characters, layered performances and parched visuals. Thrown in as loose change is footage of the red carpet premiere.
In the absence of any commentary tracks or a Making Of, this is your best bet to glean any real insight into how an outsider so perfectly captured a specific time and place while working within the framework of this most American of genres. For that, if not being the saviour of cinema, he should be celebrated.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Q&A
Director: David Mackenzie; Starring: Dale Dickey, Ben Foster, Chris Pine; Digital HD release: Jan 2, 2017; DVD, BD release: January 9, 2017
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
A naive youngster with a bearded mentor, on the run in the awe-inspiring New Zealand countryside? Yes, Taika Waititi’s Kiwi hit makes an inevitable – if very good – Lord of the Rings gag, but it’s very much its own (wilder)beast. An unexpected delight, this fleet-footed character comedy mines rites-of-passage and mismatched-buddy genres in fresh and engaging ways.
While those familiar with Waititi’s earlier films, such as Eagle Vs Shark and What We Do in the Shadows, will find enough quality laughs in its goofy, quotable humour, this is richer and more ambitious. It’s no mean feat for a film to resemble Stand By Me and Midnight Run, and bear comparison with both.
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a 13-year-old lost in the foster system, until he’s sent to live with ‘Auntie’ Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her grouchy husband, ‘Uncle’ Hector (Sam Neill). Ricky makes himself at home, but when tragedy strikes and the risk of losing his rural idyll looms, he finds himself on the lam with a reluctant Hec.
What follows is an off-kilter joy, freewheeling between spectacle and subtlety. With its chapter titles and quirky characters (watch out for Rhys Darby as conspiracy theorist Psycho Sam), Waititi’s style has obvious debts to Wes Anderson. He also stages action with commendable scale and plenty of flair. With an animal attack to rival The Revenant, and well-staged nods to First Blood and Thelma and Louise, Marvel’s hiring of Waititi for Thor: Ragnarok looks an astute move.
Yet the widescreen framing is designed mostly to let Neill and Dennison spar with each other against that extraordinary NZ environment. Neill confirms what a great actor he is in a role that expresses his remarkable range: part The Piano’s misanthropic master, part Jurassic Park’s avuncular adventurer. Dennison is a real find, bringing a touching sense of vulnerability and loss alongside pinpoint comic timing.
With these two on the quest, there’s enough resonance to outlast the laughter. Like this year’s Captain Fantastic, it’s a story that urges a utopian connection to nature while asking tough questions about the ambivalent benefits of a backwoods upbringing. Mostly, though, it’s about being – as Hec puts it – “majestical”, and theirs is a fellowship so engaging it might make you forget about those other fellas wandering through New Zealand.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Making Of, Featurettes, Bloopers
Director: Taika Waititi; Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: Jan 16, 2017
One of the director’s best, Pedro Almodóvar’s 20th film offers a whistle-stop tour of his career. The sad story of Julieta, played by Adriana Ugarte (carefree) and Emma Suárez (catatonic) in an outstanding dual performance, moves from the frolics of youth to the regrets of middle age.
Almodóvar’s elegant adap of three Alice Munro stories mines deep-grained emotion while proving his visual powers remain undimmed. The colours alone are a swatch of Julieta’s emotions, and the transition that sees Ugarte become Suárez is a match cut made in heaven.
Director: Pedro Almodóvar; Starring: Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao; DVD, BD release: Jan 9, 2017
If the glowing 4K theatrical/director’s cut transfers aren’t enough, the main reason to revisit Richard Kelly’s cosmic head-scratcher is a new 85-minute doc.
Deus Ex Machina gets detailed with Kelly, DoP Steven Poster, bunny-man James Duval, composer Michael Andrews and others on Jason Schwartzman’s involvement, David Hasselhoff’s near-involvement, Sam Raimi’s set drive-by and more. Also included is the vid for Gary Jules’ ‘Mad World’, which still haunts: like Kelly’s sublime film itself.
EXTRAS: Commentaries, Making Of, Featurettes, Deleted scenes, Shorts, Booklet
Director: Richard Kelly; Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell; Dual format release: January 9, 2017
Remakes aren’t always a desperate cash grab: William Wyler’s multi-Oscar winner Ben-Hur (1959) was itself a remake. But Ben-Hur (2016) makes a compelling case for leaving the classics well alone. Jack Huston is horribly miscast as Judah Ben-Hur, a nobleman forced into slavery by his adoptive brother Messala (Toby Kebbell, cartoonishly evil).
Timur Bekmambetov brings flair to an impressive shipwreck sequence, but the climactic chariot race is little more than a tedious parade of thundering hooves blighted by incomprehensible editing.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Deleted scenes
Director: Timur Bekmambetov; Starring: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: January 16, 2017
USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage
Titanic meets Jaws was likely the pitch, but Mario Van Peebles’ recreation of the titular vessel’s sinking by a Japanese sub, with a large chunk of the 1,000 survivors then picked off by sharks, is more Down Periscope meets Shark Night.
The CG predators are fishily realised and Nic Cage somehow manages to out-chomp them even as he plays it taciturn and stoic as the ill-fated Captain McVay. But it’s the leaden script that torpedoes the whole thing. Stick to Quint’s thrilling monologue in Jaws.
EXTRAS: Making Of
Director: Mario Van Peebles; Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tom Sizemore, Thomas Jane; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: January 9, 2017
Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari
In small-town Germany, a travelling magician hypnotises his stooge (Casablanca’s Conrad Veidt) into carrying out kidnap and murder, in this wildly influential 1920 silent: the modern horror movie properly begins here.
Anticipating everything from stalk ’n’ slash to the twist-in-the-tale thriller, its crazily angled German Expressionist sets with their painted-on lights and shadows also impacted heavily on a certain Tim Burton. This superb new restoration comes with feature-length documentaries, video essays and an expansive booklet, featuring rare archive stills.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Documentaries, Featurettes, Booklet
Director: Robert Wiene; Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher; BD steelbook release: Jan 16, 2017
To Live and Die in LA
“I don’t believe in self-censorship,” growls William Friedkin on his talk-track, stating the obvious. The evidence is vigorously showcased in the sun-seared cynicism and extravagant violence of his 1985 thriller, where an impatience with restraint is clear from the opening titles.
Subtlety croaks the minute a cop starts talking about his retirement, practically issuing himself a death warrant. But Friedkin brings a forensic focus to the details of money forging, his intensity matched by Willem Dafoe’s louche monster in polo-necks.
Cops William Petersen and John Pankow aren’t much better in their willingness to bend any rule, whether it means duffing up John Turturro or driving recklessly in a thrillingly gratuitous car chase. Friedkin’s lurid vision is lavishly captured by DoP Robby Müller, who shoots the shit out of LA until it looks queasy.
The ‘Miami Vice gone bad’ sheen extends to Wang Chung’s brashly synthetic score, which suits the sickly lustre of a film in which everyone is fake or on the make.
Friedkin never knowingly understates anything; some of the dialogue howls with pretension. But his determination to hold fast to his instincts compels you, right up to the last bullet in the head.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Interviews, Featurette, Alternative ending, Deleted scene
Director: William Friedkin; Starring: William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow; Dual format release: November 21, 2016
Assault on Precinct 13
Talking at LA’s The Egyptian Theatre in 2002, John Carpenter recalled just how tough he found his first proper shoot (1974 debut Dark Star was a student film that he later padded, filming in dribs and drabs as money came through). “Man, this is hard work,” Carpenter joked of Assault on Precinct 13’s 20-day schedule, with interiors shot at the Producers Studios and exteriors at the old Venice police station.
Armed with just a $100,000 budget, a rapidly scribbled script that riffed on Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, and a cast comprising obscure genre actors, hungry newbies and some of the writer/director’s ex-film school buddies, Carpenter nonetheless insisted on shooting 35mm Panavision to ensure his “Scotch tape and chewing gum” production belonged on the big screen.
Boy, was it worth it. Now turning 40 but taut and muscular as ever, Assault on Precinct 13 is one of the best American thrillers of the ’70s – and it was a decade packed with ’em – plus has only twice been surpassed by Carpenter in his subsequent career: horror masterpieces Halloween and The Thing. Like those movies, it’s a masterclass in suspense.
All silences, squibs and racial tension, while the classical filmmaking is enhanced by moody night-time lighting and Carpenter’s ominous earworm of a synth score. Death Row convict Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston), meanwhile, is an anti-hero to match Escape From New York’s Snake Plissken.
This anniversary disc marks Assault on Precinct 13’s UK debut on Blu, its visual clarity and pin-drop sound quality making it a must. Some of the extensive extras, including Carpenter’s hugely engaging (as ever) commentary track, and another from art director/ childhood buddy Tommy Lee Wallace, are imported from previous DVD and overseas BD editions, but the new material is choice.
Made in 1969 and rediscovered in 2011, black-and-white student film Captain Voyeur watches a mask-wearing Peeping Tom stalk the neighbourhood like Michael Myers’ horny sibling, while 2003 featurette Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer? sees French filmmaker Charlotte Szlovak head to LA to try and locate the actress who so impressed in Assault as Hawksian secretary Leigh.
Zimmer, who also went by the surname Fanning, vanished in the late ’70s, and Szlovak’s quest pierces the illusory sheen and shimmer of LA to offer a haunting portrait akin to Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life.
EXTRAS: Commentaries, Documentary, Short film, Interviews
Director: John Carpenter; Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: November 28, 2016
The Royal Tenenbaums
Buffing the vivid colour palette and eclectic soundtrack of Wes Anderson’s dysfunctional family saga, this Blu-ray upgrade is a covetable package. Detail-heavy extras highlight the director’s painstaking commitment to every particular.
Only Gene Hackman admits to ploughing his own furrow. His roguish performance remains one of the film’s great joys. Pinging around him, the awkward love triangle – melancholy Margo (Gwyneth Paltrow), love-crushed Richie (Luke Wilson) and mescaline-crazed Eli (Owen Wilson) – is even more poignant than you remember.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Interviews, Deleted scenes, Image galleries
Director: Wes Anderson; Starring: Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anjelica Huston; BD release: December 5, 2016
Featuring Blake Lively stranded in a bikini with a great white on her tail, this adreno-horror somehow succeeds as both feminist battle cry and exploitative froth flick. Like Deep Blue Sea and Lake Placid, emphasis is on dread over depth, with director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop) bleeding every minute for sun-addled tension.
Lively’s Nancy is likeable, resourceful and shares great chemistry with her seagull ‘co-star’, while the final showdown is a bombastic B-movie treat. And it clocks in at a highly digestible 86 mins, too.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Deleted scenes
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra; Starring: Blake Lively; DVD, BD, Steelbook, 4K, Digital HD release: December 5, 2016
The Squid and the Whale
Noah Baumbach’s directing breakout dissects divorce’s messy ironies, as New Yorkers Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney turn to gladiatorial combat using their kids (including a young Jesse Eisenberg) as ammo. The result is a tantalising marriage between a taut screenplay and rangy direction.
This isn’t a feel-good Sundance flick but a ‘no hugs’, pitch-black comedy that Baumbach describes as “revenge” in a disc-exclusive interview. And yet, it’s remarkably non-judgemental, achieving a Truffaut-esque serenity about life’s miseries.
EXTRAS: Making Of, Interviews, Auditions
Director: Noah Baumbach; Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney; BD release: December 5, 2016
Of all the Disney films lining up for a refresh, Pete’s Dragon was surely at the back of the queue. In the hands of director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), though, that goofy ’70s musical finds new life in this heartfelt drama, in which the fact that forest-dwelling Pete’s buddy is a dragon is almost a non-issue – Lowery’s film is, touchingly, all about family and friendship.
Robert Redford’s retired forest ranger brings a twinkly eyed charm, while newcomer Oakes Fegley is magical as Pete.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes, Gag reel, Deleted scenes, Music video
Director: David Lowery; Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: December 5, 2016