Out on 25 July and 1 August
Disney returns to the wild. Kubrick gets the Criterion treatment. Batman and Superman’s duel gets even longer.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of Zootropolis, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Dr Strangelove, Paths of Glory, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Ultimate Edition, Batman: The Killing Joke, Absolute Beginners, The End of the Tour, Stonewall, and Messi.
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The key moment to understanding why Zootropolis represents such an important statement for Disney comes towards the film’s end, as heroes Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) race past a weasel selling knock-off DVDs. The titles include puns on Disney’s recent output: ‘Wreck-It Rhino’ and ‘Pig Hero 6’; highlighting that Disney is now the animation studio that others look to rip off.
The last time the Mouse House rode its current crest of critical and commercial acclaim was the early 1990s, the now-classic era of Beauty and the Beast (opens in new tab), Aladdin and The Lion King (opens in new tab). That renaissance was short-lived; suddenly, Buzz and Woody’s arrival changed everything. Within years, Pixar – and credible CG animation rivals like DreamWorks – had displaced Disney with funnier, savvier, more modern movies, while even in its traditional 2D wheelhouse, Disney lost ground to Japan’s mighty Studio Ghibli.
What’s changed? Put simply, John Lasseter – the man who helped build Pixar – is now in charge of Disney and has brought the same high standards to his previous employer’s parent company. Under Lasseter’s stewardship, the Disney brand is rapidly re-establishing itself as the gold standard of Hollywood animation, but one attuned to the very different demands of 21st-century audiences. Notwithstanding nostalgic throwback Winnie The Pooh, Disney’s animated features this decade have been suave, sharp entertainments: Tangled (opens in new tab), Wreck-It Ralph (opens in new tab), Frozen (opens in new tab), Big Hero 6 (opens in new tab) and now Zootropolis. That’s an unrivalled winning streak, especially when other studios look increasingly towards milking their existing franchises… and yes, even Pixar, despite the glory of Inside Out.
Instead, Disney has embraced a slate united only by its ambition, originality and diversity. With the exception of Tangled and Frozen (both being excellent recalibrations of ‘Disney princess’ conventions) this run has been marked by its lack of obvious Disneyfication: the other films might have been pitched at any contemporary studio. Just as Big Hero 6 was a Marvel crossover and could easily have been live action, so Zootropolis is a streetwise update of the studio’s talking-animal traditions, a police procedural with a plot as labyrinthine as any film noir as novice cop Judy investigates a spate of vicious attacks. Call it La-La Confidential.
This is something new; even the much-vaunted Renaissance of the early 1990s was rooted in a ‘back to basics’ classicism. Here, however, one of the best jokes has Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), the buffalo boss of Zootropolis P.D, reminding his cops that “Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true” – adding “so let it go” in case we hadn’t got the joke.
But Zootropolis – no matter that it has plenty of antecedents in its ‘urban jungle’ premise – is an original property, and even the obvious potential for sequels is left unspoken. The film trusts to its own virtues, just as mismatched buddies Hopps (cop, bunny) and Wilde (criminal, fox) learn to respect each other’s abilities.
What’s interesting is how its behind-the-scenes team replicates the on-screen paean to getting along. The directors here are Byron Howard, a Disney mainstay who has become one of Lasseter’s key regulars thanks to Bolt and Tangled (opens in new tab); and Rich Moore, once a veteran of golden-age Simpsons before he joined Disney to make Wreck-It Ralph. That combo replicates the chemistry between the hyp-erenthusiastic newbie Judy and seen-it-all-before cynic Nick. The plot gathers pace thanks to the mutually beneficial mix of their skillsets, and you imagine something similar happened in making the story work so well.
This, then, is a manifesto for nu-Disney, whose update of the age-old platitudes of ‘living your dreams’ comes with such hard-earned experience that it becomes a sly, incredibly topical parable of tolerance and the importance of not demonising others. Crucially, no matter that the characters are animals and the neighbourhoods include the cute boutiques of Little Rodentia, it’s an authentically urban Disney film, with characters who have careers and apartments. In its strange way, the film is almost taking Walt’s mid-20th-century vision of Disneyland and giving it a fresh, pragmatic lease of life.
Everything coheres. The jokes are funny, but also advance the story; the characters double as believable entities and anthropomorphic allegories of human behaviour; and it is genuinely well-plotted. Although it took a little while to nail the narrative, according to the extras; things really came together when the main-character focus shifted from Nick to Judy. Elsewhere, we get 28 mins of deleted scenes (some finished, some storyboard-y), a look at deleted characters (Honey Badger!) and a guide to the Hidden Mickeys (and Annas and Elsas).
EXTRAS: Featurettes (BD, HD), Deleted scenes (BD, HD), Music video (BD, HD)
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore; Starring: Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate; DVD, BD, 3D BD, Digital HD release: July 25, 2016
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
Even after many follow-ups have fallen foul of escalation, ‘the same, but more’ still tends to be studios’ default option for sequels. True, we hardly expected much less than Cloverfield (opens in new tab)-sized alien queens and Atlantic-straddling alien ships from Independence Day: Resurgence (opens in new tab). But X-Men: Apocalypse (opens in new tab) could have used a tighter focus during its destructo pay-off, and Bad Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising (opens in new tab) could have used fewer dildos.
Between its shock-drop pre-release publicity and classicist twists on its 2008 predecessor’s found-footage pitch, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an alternative strain of sequel. Where many drip-feed trailer campaigns start up to two years before a film’s release, the sequel – or, in producer J.J. Abrams’ sly teaser-speak, “blood relative” – to Matt Reeves’ monster romp gave us under two months. Somehow, Abrams smuggled a rogue element into a release schedule stuffed with semi-known-quantity sequels, and made it rogue-r by getting semi-unknown quantity Dan Trachtenberg to direct.
More boldly, the film reins in its predecessor’s attack-mode pitch and relocates to largely fresh genre turf. Like Ex Machina (opens in new tab), it makes a virtue of minimalist confinement, favouring focused character studies over a city-roaming ensemble of hipster hotties. And much of its time is spent on a kind of contained distillation of the original’s monster theme, wrapped up tight in the story of a woman’s captivity and transformation.
That focus galvanizes precision castwork, especially from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as clothes-designer Michelle. As she flees love issues, prangs her car and wakes in a bunker owned by John Goodman’s Howard, her watchful eyes become ours. Praised by Abrams and Trachtenberg on their commentary, Winstead’s expressive features in the waking-up scene nail the challenges of non-verbal storytelling; as for Trachtenberg’s no-fat direction, his one-woman 2011 short, Portal: No Escape, gave him good practice.
Goodman never overplays his hand, either. Like his Roseanne character tilted the way of his stormier Coen brothers roles, Howard’s imposing bulk, forced smile and pent-up rage give the impression of a man made of the wrong stuff, even if he might be right about chemical dangers aboveground. And if Howard is wonky, Short Term 12’s John Gallagher Jr. provides solid counter-balance as Emmett, the bunker’s third occupant, who’s used for something bolder than romance.
With each role precision-etched, the script tightens the screws on ties between character and subtext. First written by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken as a chamber piece, 10 Cloverfield Lane received a rewrite from Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle, who emphasised the focus on Michelle, added some twists – and, surely, brought some experience of writing about scary male authority to the table.
Framing the leads tightly, Trachtenberg’s crew navigate character and context with eyes and ears attuned for expressive impact. Sound designer Robert Stambler turns slamming locks into noise-torture tools. Editor Stefan Grube and DoP Jeff Cutter use every cut and angle to illuminate the shifting dynamic between Michelle and Howard.
For the initial captor/captive chats, space is used to suggest suspicion and tension; later, as Michelle sews up Howard’s wound, the camera’s close-ups offer an old-school lesson in using editing to express feeling.
Equally crucial is Bear McCreary, whose Bernard Herrmann-esque score deploys oddball instrumentation. His soundtrack uses an experimental instrument called a blaster-beam, compared by McCreary to a “14ft-long pedal-steel guitar from hell” on his featurette, the best of a solid disc-batch.
Although they play a long game getting there, Trachtenberg and Abrams ram home the (wince now) ‘Cloververse’ links in the finale, which drew flak for, supposedly, abandoning all reserve. But Trachtenberg seeds the finale’s constituents rigorously, from the opening shots of the river (echoing Cloverfield’s final shot) and booze bottle to clues about “mutant space worms”.
Digging deeper, the finale underscores Michelle’s burgeoning willingness to confront danger – Trachtenberg rejected one effects scene to stay focused on Winstead, ensuring that the climax hews close to Abrams’ interpretation of the film as “the origin story of a heroine”.
As for where the Cloververse goes next, Abrams and Trachtenberg have earned the right to a little escalation. Could Abrams’ 2017 space-shocker, God Particle, be ‘Clover-3’? You wouldn’t bet against him throwing us that kind of curveball. A controlled explosion lobbed into the outsized maw of event cinema, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a triumph of surprise over scale.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes
Director: Dan Trachtenberg; Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr., Douglas M. Griffin; DVD, BD, VOD release: July 25, 2016
DR STRANGELOVE/PATHS OF GLORY
Stanley Kubrick never cared too much whom he offended. Just as well, perhaps. Paths of Glory so outraged the French government that it was banned in France for 17 years. And with the Cold War at its height, he fashioned Dr. Strangelove (subtitle: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) as a pitch-black farce about nuclear annihilation. Both films illustrate his favourite thesis – that all our most humane instincts can never win out against the ego-driven tendencies that mar our species.
Paths of Glory (which was also banned in Switzerland and Franco’s Spain) must rank as one of the most bitterly angry anti-war movies ever made. It’s based on a true event on the Western Front in 1915 when four French privates, chosen totally at random, were court-martialled and shot as scapegoats for the incompetence of their senior officers. The scenes of trench warfare are frighteningly vivid, and Kirk Douglas gives a searing performance as the officer assigned to the hopeless task of defending the accused men.
Dr. Strangelove, by contrast, is pervaded with a grim humour. Initially, Kubrick planned a serious film on the subject, a straight adaptation of Peter George’s novel Red Alert – but the more he worked on the idea, the more the absurdities struck him. So calling in satirical novelist Terry Southern to collaborate on the screenplay he reworked the film as a “nightmare comedy”, populated by grotesque caricatures, deranged monomaniacs ridden by their obsessions.
Craziest of the lot is air force General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) who triggers a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union because fluoridation of the water supply is a Commie plot to “sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids”.
It’s a performance matched for comic delirium by George C. Scott as the rampantly gung-ho General Buck Turgidson, giving a virtuoso display of twitches, tics and urgent gum-chewing grimaces; while Peter Sellers bags a triple role as ineffectual President Merkin Muffley (said to be based on Presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey), a British Group Captain and the Kissinger-esque Dr. Strangelove, whose artificial arm keeps irrepressibly heiling or trying to strangle its owner. As the Prez, he gets the movie’s most fondly-remembered line, as Turgidson and the Russian Ambassador tussle clumsily on the floor: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight here – this is the War Room!”
Eureka! for Paths, and Criterion for Dr Strangelove, each lavish their release with a generous helping of high-class extras.
DR. STRANGELOVE EXTRAS: Featurettes, Interviews, Trailer, Booklet
PATHS OF GLORY EXTRAS: Commentary, Interviews, Music track, Trailer, Bookle
DR STRANGELOVE (5 stars): Director: Stanley Kubrick; Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn; BD release: July 25, 2016
PATHS OF GLORY (5 stars): Director: Stanley Kubrick; Starring: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou; BD release: September 19, 2016
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE: ULTIMATE EDITION
Wouldn’t you know it, you wait four years for a new Batman movie and two swoop in at once. Both face unenviable tasks: in BVS’ case, launching DC’s lucrative live-action shared universe. The Killing Joke, meanwhile, sets out to adapt Alan Moore’s Joker story. Both tout their adults-only take on the Bat. Both are a bit of a letdown.
Arriving on a shiny disc in its ‘Ultimate Edition’ guise, the extended cut of Batman V Superman adds 32 minutes of footage to an already bloated 151-min runtime. The bulk is dedicated to clarifying confusing subplots in the build-up to the film’s climactic, CG-laden showdown. Jimmy Olsen gets a few seconds to tell Lois his name before being executed; Jena Malone is introduced as an exposition-spouting STAR Labs scientist and Clark is guilt-tripped by a Nairomi citizen who questions how Superman decides who lives and who dies.
The result is a story that at least attempts to justify its figureheads’ previously inexplicable bloodlust, but it doesn’t add enough interest to justify the bum-numbing 182-minute screen time. Neither does it do anything to address the film’s biggest problems, including a laughably sombre tone, underwhelming final third and complete misunderstanding of its central dynamic duo, making this a cut for Dawn of Justice die-hards only.
The Killing Joke meanwhile couldn’t be more faithful to its source; it’s practically a panel-for-panel translation to the screen. At least it is after a new 20-minute prologue focusing on Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl. The idea is sound – give context and weight to later tragic events – and likely necessary to pad out TKJ’s tiny page count. But it fails to build on Moore’s concept, merely delaying the time it takes to get to the meat.
Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reprise their animated series roles and both give their all, particularly Hamill, delivering his lines with gusto. It never works as well as it did on the page, however. The animation lacks the impact of Brian Bolland’s iconic art, while the comic’s legendary final page is badly fumbled. It’s still the best of this month’s Bat-releases, but given the calibre of what came before, both fall short of their potential.
BATMAN V SUPERMAN EXTRAS: Featurettes
BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE EXTRAS: Justice League Dark preview, Cartoon episodes, Featurettes
BATMAN V SUPERMAN (2 stars): Director: Zak Snyder; Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams; DVD, BD, 3D BD, 4K BD, Digital HD release: August 1, 2016
BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE (3 stars): Director: Sam Liu; Starring: Mark Hamill, Kari Wahlgren, Tara Strong, Nolan North; DVD, BD, Steelbook, Digital HD release: August 8, 2016
“I think I’ve produced at least 30 or 40 films – and I still have nightmares about Absolute Beginners,” reflects Stephen Woolley in the doc on this 30th anniversary Blu-ray of Julien Temple’s mid-’80s musical. Too much hype, not enough money and Temple locked out of the edit came before British critics ripped this Soho-set sing-a-thon to shreds (although, curiously, the film and the David Bowie-led soundtrack performed well).
Temple’s film remains an ambitious, elegant effort, right from the elaborate opening shot around the stage-built version of late-’50s Soho. Based on Colin MacInnes’ novel, the story sees 19-year-old photographer Colin (Eddie O’Connell) fall for model Crepe (a bubbly Patsy Kensit) just as London is burning up with racial tension.
With the story inspired by the 1958 Notting Hill race riots, watching this post-Brexit makes it eerily resonant – Steven Berkoff’s turn as the whites-only Fanatic is particularly unsettling. Likewise, Bowie – who bestowed the film with its title track and plays ad guru Vendice Partners – will leave you lamenting his recent passing anew.
For Temple, who came out of music videos and the Sex Pistols film The Great Rock ’N’ Roll Swindle, the production’s tortured history may have left scars, but few remain on this vibrant film. Filled with musical talent (The Kinks’ Ray Davies included), it’s even got a blink-miss cameo by Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli as a half-naked lodger.
Director: Julien Temple; Starring: Patsy Kensit, Eddie O'Connell, David Bowie; DVD, BD release: July 25, 2016
THE END OF THE TOUR
Smashed and The Spectacular Now director James Ponsoldt delivers yet another intriguing drama – this time based on a real-life encounter between Rolling Stone reporter Dave Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), who – as we learn at the outset – killed himself in 2008.
Set 12 years before, just after his bestseller Infinite Jest hit shelves, it’s a fascinating head-to-head, as Lipsky accompanies Wallace from snowy Illinois to Minneapolis for the last stop on his book tour, gradually peeling away his host’s layers.
EXTRAS: Deleted scenes
Director: James Ponsoldt; Starring: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg; DVD, Digital HD release: July 25, 2016
Rather than the world-trashing of Independence Day: Resurgence (opens in new tab), Roland Emmerich sticks to landmarkbothering with this historical drama set around New York’s infamous Stonewall Inn, scene of the 1969 riot that finally started a conversation about LGBT rights.
Inspired by the one photo from that night, the director’s “labour of love” is handsomely shot and well-meaning, but suffers from a split focus – the script wavers between Jeremy Irvine’s loner and Jonny Beauchamp’s magnetic transgender hooker, making Stonewall watchable but far from a must-watch.
Director: Roland Emmerich; Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Jonny Beauchamp, Joey King; DVD release: August 1, 2016
Cult Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia gathers footy coaches (Cruyff, Menotti), teammates (Iniesta, Piqué, Mascherano), journalists and ex-teachers in a restaurant to talk the mini-miracle that is Lionel Messi. The use of clunky reconstructions should’ve been red-carded and Messi remains as inscrutable as ever.
Where this doc scores is in unearthing archival footage stretching back to his childhood in Argentina, with close-ups on his youthful travails (growth hormone injections, uprooted at 13 to join Barcelona) and his God-given ability – even aged six, playing against nine-yearolds – to wriggle past everyone else on a pitch
Director: Álex de la Inglesia; Starring: Johan Cruyff, Kike Domínguez, Álex García; DVD release: July 25, 2016