Out on April 3 and April 10
Gareth Edwards completes the Star Wars circle. Ken Loach’s moving drama. A Woody Allen box-set.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Moana, Allied, Tombox, Solaris, Seoul Station, I Daniel Blake, Woody Allen: Seven Films 1986-1991, The Crying Game, and Mildred Pierce.
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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Animated series, ewok telemovies, Holiday (from hell) Specials… funny to think that Star Wars spin-offs were more moppet-friendly before Disney took over. Rogue One, the first Anthology entry, is made by a mega-fan (director Gareth Edwards) for the mega-fans.
Gritty, cool and packing more Easter eggs than a Tesco Superstore, this Episode IV expanded prologue is both a love letter to Lucas, and a corrective. Exhibit A: after more than a decade of living with Episode III’s “Nooooo!!!” moment, the die-hards finally get a dose of vintage Vader.
If nothing else quite warms the geek-cockles like the Sith Lord having a shit fit, the whole film essays an anti-prequel aesthetic. Edwards’ galaxy is lived-in, with a limited palette (black, white, dirt) and no room for anything cringey or cutesy.
Mind you, it could do with more laughs. And a bit more character in its characters: several here seem not so much edgy or troubled as simply down in the dumps. Stealing the schematics to the Empire’s planet-killer is a serious business, but as a certain space pirate once quipped, let’s keep a little optimism here.
Really, the movie starts once the mission does. After a first half that has its moments (the Death Star’s apocalyptic capabilities), but also its dry patches (too much talk of the Death Star’s apocalyptic capabilities), Edwards storms the beaches. Paradise planet Scarif becomes the centre of a delirious mash-up of classic SW battles, complete with swooping X-wings, lumbering AT-ATs and fishman admirals.
And as foregone as the conclusion is, tension still mounts (even when an underused Riz Ahmed is info-dumping overcomplicated instructions for how to throw a big switch). Jyn (Felicity Jones) and co may not be as special as franchise heroes past (future?), but their ordinariness becomes a virtue as the situation approaches terminal.
This is the first Star Wars film to downplay the Jedi mysticism, yet it’s when evoking a sense of sacrifice – with no hope of ghostly return – that the Force is strongest with it.
Sadly, owing to an “unplayable” review disc, Small Screen was denied a peek at something even more vital than those Death Star plans: the extras. Still, we can tell you that they’re Blu-ray-only and featurette-based; no deleted scenes or audio commentary (yet).
Several of the mini-docs focus on individual characters, while another delves into the backstory of this ‘back’ story with originator John Knoll. There’s also an Easter egg round-up (floaty probe droid! Warwick Davies! Blue moo-juice!) and most intriguing/potentially disappointing of all, a look-ahead to future Star Wars stories.
EXTRAS: Featurettes (BD)
Director: Gareth Edwards; Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: April 10, 2017
Disney’s latest may feature a South Pacific princess in peril and more catchy tunes than one earworm could possibly handle (you’ll be singing ‘You’re Welcome’ for weeks), but it’s every bit as progressive and eye-popping as Frozen, with a heroine who digs herself out of scrapes.
Plus, there’s not a party-pooper prince to be seen. Naturally, the Rock steals the show as swaggering demi-god Maui (his living tattoos are a marvel; his pipes equally so), but the water-tight animation runs a close second. Dazzling stuff.
EXTRAS: Shorts, Featurettes, Discussion, Song, Deleted song/scenes, Commentary
Directors: Ron Clements, Don Hall; Starring: Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House; DVD, BD, 3D, Digital HD release: April 4, 2017
Like a very famous film couple before them, spies Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard infiltrate Nazi-controlled Casablanca, in Morocco, despite their extraordinary good looks. Next, they’re infiltrating each other, settling into Blitz-torn London only to find the war isn’t done with them.
Starting strong, Robert Zemeckis’ reassuringly starchy thriller goes a little too ’Allo ’Allo!. While Cotillard impresses, Pitt gives a super-stiff performance as a man apparently so in charge of his emotions that they never once crinkle his face.
Director: Robert Zemeckis; Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: April 4, 2017
Blazing with bullets and plenty of bad taste, Walter Hill’s controversial pulp thriller – about an assassin who gets a surprise sex-change courtesy of Sigourney Weaver’s revenge-seeking surgeon – aims for black comedy, but misses by a mile.
Like Hill’s Johnny Handsome (1990) with hormone treatment, its bluff, biff-bang ’80s-style action and clichéd gangster plot can’t wring any fun from the film’s risky premise. Swaggering hitman/woman Michelle Rodriguez is a hoot, however, literally and metaphorically grabbing her parts with both hands.
Director: Walter Hill; Starring: Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Caitlin Gerard; DVD, Digital HD release: April 4, 2017
Long before Steven Soderbergh’s version, Andrei Tarkovsky’s answer to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 pits a psychologist against a telepathic alien planet that offers up “guests” to its visitors: near-perfect reproductions drawn from memories of loved ones.
But is the replica of cosmonaut Kris’ dead wife any less ‘real’ than the original? A beautiful, profound and haunting meditation on what it means to be human, Solaris’ influence on sci-fi – Blade Runner, Moon, Arrival – still reverberates.
EXTRAS: Deleted/Alternate scenes, Interviews, Audio essay, Documentary excerpt, Booklet
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky; Starring: Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Jüri Järvet; BD release: April 4, 2017
Yeon Sang-ho’s anime prequel to zombie smash Train to Busan is a less visceral, more political affair, the outbreak starting amid the homeless horde gathered at the titular landmark, and soldiers crushing zombies and survivors alike in a horrific display of state power.
Set over one night, various tales shift into focus, with ex-prostitute Hye-sun (Shim Eun-kyung) emerging as the movie’s heartbeat. It’s not quite the ticket that Busan is, but atmospheric artwork casts society’s shadows over a glimmering city.
EXTRAS: Making Of
Director: Sang-ho Yeon; Starring: Seung-ryong Ryu, Franciska Friede, Joon Lee; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: April 4, 2017
I, Daniel Blake
The tepidly received Jimmy’s Hall was set to be Ken Loach’s directing swansong, but he evidently had a least one more in him. Told with compassion and belly fire, I, Daniel Blake is one of the socialist filmmaker’s most vital works in years. So relevant it was discussed in Parliament, this Palme d’Or winner and Bafta’s Outstanding British Film sets its sights on Jobseeker’s Allowance and fitness-for-work assessments.
Comedian Dave Johns stars as Geordie Dan, a carpenter signed off from work after a massive heart attack. Handy with a toolbox but useless on a computer, he finds himself mired in the government’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy when he’s deemed fit to work.
During a job centre visit, Dan strikes up a friendship with single mum-of-two Katie (Hayley Squires). Johns has an everyday affability as the title character, and Squires is a revelation. A key scene in a food bank is powerfully affecting: one of many human moments that lingers long in the memory, Loach’s observant direction never patronising his working-class protagonists.
The story might be too much of a polemic for some. Loach and Laverty have a very clear point to make, but there’s no disputing their research, which they frequently cite on their chat-track. Additional extras comprise a brace of deleted scenes and an illuminating ‘How To Make A Ken Loach’ featurette, filmed in a Loachian style, that follows the film from casting to Cannes.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Deleted scenes, Making Of
Director: Ken Loach; Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: February 27, 2017
Woody Allen: Seven Films 1986-1991
This boxset, which could also be called ‘The Mia Farrow Years’, bundles essential Allen (the triple-Oscared Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes And Misdemeanors, Radio Days), lesser-seen Woodys (September, Another Woman, Alice) and the one with Madonna (Shadows And Fog).
Darkness and whimsy loom larger than laughs, but even September, which out-Chekhovs the earlier Interiors, has its chuckles: “God is testing us and I for one am gonna be ready. Where’s the vodka?”
Director: Woody Allen; Starring: Various; BD release: February 20, 2017
The Crying Game
People still talk about that twist, but it’s the love story that makes this one of Neil Jordan’s best, along with career-best turns from his two leads. After the abduction of a British soldier (Forest Whitaker) goes awry, Stephen Rea’s hangdog IRA hitman grows closer to the kidnapped man’s lover (Jaye Davidson).
Nominated for six Oscars (winning Best Screenplay), this noir-infused drama is awash with warmth, wit and sensitivity. Extras include the terrible “Nobody’s perfect” alternative ending.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Documentary, Alternative ending, Booklet
Director: Neil Jordan; Starring: Stephen Rea, Jaye Davidson, Forest Whitaker; Dual format release: February 20, 2017
Adapted from a James M. Cain novel, Michael Curtiz’s (Casablanca) noir-framed melodrama also framed an electric comeback for Joan Crawford. In a return from the career doldrums, Crawford oozes charisma as doting mum Mildred, whose struggles to juggle no-good men, a career and the daughter from hell lead – in flashback – to smoking guns.
As a kind of high-soap study in mink-clad style, genre potency and unblinking star wattage, it dazzles. Criterion’s typically extras-stuffed BD transfer glistens.
EXTRAS: Documentary, Featurettes
Director: Michael Curtiz; Starring: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott; BD release: February 27, 2017