Out on November 13 and November 20
Edgar Wright hotwires the musical. Sion Sono delivers a gory blast of WTF-ery. A found-footage shark movie makes it way to DVD.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of Baby Driver, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Thing, Tag, Office Christmas Party, The Beguiled, The Big Sick, Cage Dive, Certain Women, The Howling, Suntan, and The Suspicious Death of a Minor.
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When a job goes south, a slick getaway is what’s needed. Ask Edgar Wright, whose response to that business with the MCU over Ant-Man sends signals of new hope to other casualties of studio-steered film. Not just his most evolved and successful film yet, Wright’s sixth feature is also – much like Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (though kinder to its Baby), a rare case of starry, studio-backed filmmaking made personal.
As with another 2017 heist romp, Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, the director’s fingerprints are all over the wheel. Just as Baby Driver opens with a “hum in the drum” over the company logos, Wright had tinnitus as a kid. Just as Wright writes to music and directs with panache, so Ansel Elgort’s tinnitus-stricken, music-loving Baby drives with the style of someone who’s absorbed a surprising amount of classic car films for a kid in 2017.
Poke under the hood and the Wright stuff gets clearer. The script (an original, gasp) is his first solo screenwriting credit in 20-plus years. In Wright style, it strips overt genre influences down and reassembles them, retooling the car-chase movie to the hyperreal tune of a musical via the inbuilt meta-potential of the heist movie. The pay-off is a bundle of many-layered joys, kickstarted from a clear spot: the spectacle of a writer/director taking control of his ride.
And what nurturing control that is. With every gesture synced to the disco-garage-funk melee of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s ‘Bellbottoms’, the opening heist set-piece unfolds with the ease of a ludicrously complex show-stopper that’s been lovingly slow-cooked until the effort doesn’t show. And it was slow-cooked: Wright had the idea while editing debut feature A Fistful of Fingers to JSBX’s Orange album in 1995, before directing a dry run with 2003’s pop promo for Mint Royale’s ‘Blue Song’.
Though the plot hits familiar cars/crime/romance beats, the stakes feel personal. Baby, a car-sharp getaway driver working for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), wants out of the heist game. But he gets dragged back in under threatening duress.
If we’ve been down this one-last-job road before, the music in Baby’s headphones keeps genre conventions fresh. For Baby, the playlists are a salve for the scars of childhood trauma. For Wright, they’re a means to further a career-long interest in characters who use pop culture as emotional insulation (or weapons to lob at zombies): just as Baby Driver challenges its hero’s moral remove, Wright challenges his own default settings.
Wright’s leads pirouette around these subtexts nimbly, revitalising genre stereotypes. Dancing with the camera or jigging in his car seat like someone possessed by a Carrie-vintage John Travolta, Elgort makes light work of doubling for viewers’ PoVs and for Wright himself. Jamie Foxx pitches his villain’s homicidal streak at a steady simmer, and Jon Hamm slyly suggests psychosis through a razor-thin smile.
Spacey, meanwhile, spins fresh variations on his many slippery on-screen bastards in Doc’s mix of cynicism and curdled paternalism. Wright’s affection for his leads is well served by CJ Jones’ tender nuances as Baby’s foster dad and Lily James as love interest Debora, a character who might not have worked without James’ lightness.
Beyond the cast, stunt coordinator/driver Jeremy Fry, editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, and DoP Bill Pope help keep Baby Driver limber and lush. Rejecting CGI, Wright’s compositional clarity matches his story-building with elegance. And the orchestration of images to the soundtrack’s deep soul, funk, rock and hip-hop cuts is so fine-tuned, you almost forget the meticulous craft and just surrender to the exuberance of sound.
Almost, because if Baby Driver is a Wright film, it also doesn’t entirely dodge his shortcomings. Fun as it is to see him embrace his hyper-expressionist dark side, the plotting veers off-road towards the climax. And, despite James’ presence, Debora could have been developed beyond ‘endlessly patient lover who knows her new man’s music references’.
Still, it keeps luring you back in, whether to tease out its minute details (there are plenty) or find new routes into its playlist-style pleasures. Including an annotated guide to the street noises in the coffee-run scene, a hefty haul of disc featurettes helps with the latter.
Two commentaries from Wright and Wright/Pope range from character insights to did-you-spot? homages, while Wright also considers whether the ending is real or fantasy, and ruminates on sequel possibilities. Whether Baby Driver needs one is debatable, but the idea isn’t implausible, given its success. A sequel to an original in these studio-dominated, property-led times? That’s an unambiguous happy ending.
EXTRAS: Commentaries, Deleted/Extended scenes (BD), Featurettes, Animatics, Music video, Storyboards
Director: Edgar Wright; Starring: Angel Elsort, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza González; Digital HD release: October 27, 2017; DVD, BD, 4K release: November 13, 2017
The best joke in Homecoming – Peter Parker’s first film proper in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after Captain America: Civil War’s crowd-pleasing cameo – is that this big-screen superhero veteran is suddenly the callow newcomer in someone else’s story.
The film finds a remarkably fresh, funny tone simply by positioning Spidey (Tom Holland) as an Avengers fanboy, swinging with glee in the margins of Marvel’s weightier peers. That allows Robert Downey Jr. to recapture his wit as Tony Stark, while Captain America (Chris Evans) appears solely for the sake of a superb running gag (which gets its own bonus feature).
This makes for a more grounded adventure, exemplified by Michael Keaton’s Vulture, the best Marvel villain since Loki. He’s an underdog like Peter, a shadow of Stark and an inversion of the superhero Keaton once played.
Also, by putting Peter back in high school, this hits the Spidey sweet spot. Like a turbo-charged John Hughes teen comedy, its laughs come from seeing a clumsy kid in a genre that’s become the slick preserve of grown-ups. The perfectly cast Holland’s exuberance makes the set-pieces sing with a personality that the spectacle-heavy Marvel films can lack.
EXTRAS: Featurettes, Deleted scenes, Gag reel, Captain America PSAs
Director: Jon Watts; Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Michael Keaton; Digital HD release: November 3, 2017; DVD, BD, 4K release: November 20, 2017
Released to deafening indifference in the summer of E.T. – and on the same day as Ridley Scott’s similarly overlooked Blade Runner, no less – John Carpenter’s Antarctic horror has stood the test of time, as though perfectly preserved in ice for 35 years. A claustrophobic, paranoia-powered classic with never-bettered creature effects by Rob Bottin, The Thing hasn’t lost any of its ability to chill.
Bearded everyman MacReady (Kurt Russell) is the helicopter pilot for a crew of researchers who find their camp invaded by a parasitic, shape-shifting alien that hides in plain sight. Mining every drop of suspense from a simple premise – can you trust your own eyes? – it’s a masterclass in unremitting tension and environmental dread.
Proving that remakes done right can transcend even celebrated originals (1951’s The Thing from another World), Carpenter paints a bleak picture of humanity; self-preservation is the priority, even for the ‘heroic’ MacReady. But that only adds to the film’s nihilistic punch, alongside a marrow-shaking score, top-tier performances and those sensational practical effects.
Receiving the lavish Arrow Video treatment, this edition comes with a superb 4K remaster overseen by Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey, two new documentaries and hours of archive features. Short of Denis Villeneuve signing on to direct The Thing 2049, it’s the finest tribute to Carpenter’s masterwork yet.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Documentaries, Featurettes, Stills galleries, Booklet
Director: John Carpenter; Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David; BD release: November 20, 2017
Arty headbanger Sion Sono (Cold Fish) fuels rites-of-passage convention with riotous invention in his giddy, gory blast of WTF-ery. Reina Triendl makes winning work of Mitsuko, a teenager facing murderous winds and psycho teachers; Sono, meanwhile, confounds grindhouse cliché with poignant moments and indelible images.
Post-rockers Mono’s sublime score helps steer the tone swerves towards a finale that sort-of explains things, though not quite why a would-be-feminist fable needs so many upskirt shots.
Director: Sion Sono; Starring: Reina Triendl, Mariko Shinoda, Erina Mano; Dual format release: November 20, 2017
The Big Sick
Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani, together with his co-writer/wife Emily Gordon revisit their rocky early days together – when he hid his impending arranged marriage and she fell dangerously ill – in this surprisingly truthful and excruciatingly funny romcom.
Zoe Kazan plays Emily, sparking up a winning chemistry with Nanjiani, who mines his years as a stand-up. Exploring cultural differences with his Pakistani family, it’s a startling and original love story – funny, frank and heartwarming.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Making Of, Featurettes, Deleted scenes
Director: Michael Showalter; Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter; Digital HD release: November 17, 2017; DVD, BD release: November 20, 2017
Office Christmas Party
An ensemble cast working through increasingly raucous exploits is a tried, tested and lazy formula. Centred on relatable workplace politics, this Yule-com adds nothing new. Jason Bateman and T.J. Miller throw a wild bash to secure a new client, all while at odds with boss Jennifer Aniston.
Character comedy comes from Kate McKinnon and Jillian Bell, but reliance on debauched merriment yields little laughter or charm.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes, Outtakes, Deleted/extended scenes, Extended version (BD)
Directors: Josh Gordon, Will Speck; Starring: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller; Digital HD release: November 6, 2017; DVD, BD release: November 13, 2017
Adapted as a grand guignol thriller by Don Siegel in 1971, with a predatory Clint Eastwood forcing snogs on a 12-year-old girl, Thomas Cullinan’s Civil War-era novel, written in 1966, is here shot through a feminist lens by Sofia Coppola.
Colin Farrell plays wounded Union soldier John McBurney as more cad than brute, while the coterie of women (Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning) who nurse him at a Virginian seminary are subtly shaded in their sexual awakening. Exquisitely shot, playful and poised.
Director: Sofia Coppola; Starring: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, Elle Fanning; Digital HD release: November 6, 2017; DVD, BD release: November 20, 2017
The found-footage genre comes back for another unnecessary encore – this time, taking on great white sharks. Stretching the ‘why don’t they put the flipping camera down?’ plot hole, the disavowed second Open Water sequel throws three obnoxious American youths into the sea so we can watch them flap around for an hour or so while they get repeatedly bitten by the fishy beasties (keeping one hand on the record button, of course).
If you only see one movie this year about a cage dive gone wrong, see another one.
Director: Gerald Rascionato; Starring: Joel Hogan, Josh Potthoff, Megan Peta Hill; DVD, Digital HD release: October 9, 2017
Two of writer/director Kelly Reichardt’s preoccupations – women’s work, the landscapes of Montana – come together in her evocative adaptation of three short stories by Montana-born author Maile Meloy (the Apothecary series), here given the top-end Criterion treatment.
Four women, lives loosely linked, pursue their existences against the odds: lawyer Laura (Laura Dern), businesswoman Gina (Michelle Williams), night-school teacher Beth (Kristen Stewart) and ranch hand Jamie (Lily Gladstone). Common to all is a sense of stoical isolation in a world where men seem to keep getting the cushier deal.
EXTRAS: Interviews, Essay
Director: Kelly Reichardt; Starring: Michelle Williams Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: September 25, 2017
After Dee Wallace’s newsreader is traumatised following a run-in with a serial killer, she attempts to heal at an isolated retreat, where the good ol’ boys and girls like their hamburgers on the rare side…
Among the ’80s silver-bullet buffet, John Landis’ American Werewolf may be the most beloved, but Joe Dante’s biting satire is altogether grislier, gnarlier – and, frankly, funkier, shot through with wolfish humour and transformation effects to rival the former. The sequels are right dogs, though.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Documentary, Interviews, Featurettes
Director: Joe Dante; Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: October 9, 2017
Set on a Greek island, this cringe-com finds sadness in the sun, as plump, jaded middle-aged doctor Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou) falls hopelessly in love with beautiful twentysomething holidaymaker Anna (Elli Tringou).
Always on hand with a bunch of beers to gain entry to her group, Kostis finds himself clubbing by night and tanning by day, until his time in the sun inevitably ends in humiliation. ‘Some bronze. Others burn’ reads the tagline, and any viewers clinging to their youth (cough) will certainly wince with pain.
EXTRAS: Documentary, Interview, Deleted scenes
Director: Argyris Papadimitropoulos; Starring: Makis Papadimitriou, Elli Tringou, Dimi Hart; DVD, BD release: September 11, 2017
The Suspicious Death of a Minor
Italian director Sergio Martino (Torso) made some of cinema’s twistiest gialli, but this 1975 polizei (cop thriller) is some distance from his best. Set in sleazy, none-more-’70s Milan – no fringe unflicked, no jacket unchecked – it follows shady customer Claudio Cassinelli as he investigates the underage sex trade.
But the slapstick humour detracts from the seriousness of the subject matter, and the borrowings from Argento do neither any favours. Minimal extras.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Interviews, Booklet
Director: Sergio Martino; Starring: Claudio Cassinelli, Mel Ferrer, Lia Tanzi; Dual format release: September 25, 2017
Don’t Torture a Duckling
Director Lucio Fulci made many classic horror films, including Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and The Beyond (1981), but this was his favourite. A rare giallo set in the rural south of Italy, it charts a series of child murders and the resulting investigations.
Taking in themes of superstition and modernity, it still remains a challenging watch that blends breathtaking vistas with stunning violence. This restoration is switchblade sharp, with extras including analysis by genre aficionados, new cast interviews and audio recollections from Fulci himself.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Discussion, Video essay, Interviews, Booklet
Director: Lucio Fulci; Starring: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian; Dual format release: September 11, 2017
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Whether you choose the restored, 197-minute roadshow version or the marginally sprightlier, 163-minute wide-release edit (both here), Stanley Kramer’s comedy is a long, long, long, long movie.
While the story’s madcap chase could probably be chopped down further, there’s an undeniable fascination to Kramer’s raucous maximalism. The destructive glee of the stunt work is outdone only by the audacious ‘spot the cameo’ casting, including Jerry Lewis, Buster Keaton and the Three Stooges.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Documentary, Archive material, Booklet
Director: Stanley Kramer; Starring: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman; BD release: September 4, 2017