Two freshly-anointed Oscar winners arrive on home video this week: Whiplash, which won awards for Supporting Actor J.K. Simmons and for editing, and sound mixing, and Big Hero 6, this year’s Best Animated Feature, debut on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD.
In Whiplash (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), music competition is a bloodsport and J.K. Simmons’ instructor is as feared as he is respected. His Fletcher is the drill sergeant of Full Metal Jacket in a simple black t-shirt and slacks and head shaved to a hard sheen and his boot camp is the school’s competition stage band: the best of the best. He bullies his students into total obedience and fear and they are desperate to win his approval while he browbeats, humiliates, and even physically assaults them, none more so than the intense and driven Buddy Rich disciple Andrew (Miles Teller). Teller is as fearless as Simmons, giving us an obsessive who is intense, driven, and at times insufferably arrogant and self-absorbed. He’s not very likable, at least not when he puts his drumming ahead of everything else, but he is compelling, taking the sports ethos of pushing past the pain to reach perfection. He literally bleeds for his art. Fletcher demands more through his hyena smile. He may actually believe that such tactics make better musicians (that which doesn’t kill only makes you a stronger player?) but he clearly enjoys the mind-games and emotional warfare. Simmons gives him life by playing it with cagey calculation, as if the very act of teaching is a competitive event.
This is as much psychological thriller as musical drama and it turns on the increasingly toxic chemistry between two clearly damaged people, to the exclusion of pretty much anyone else in the film. The other members of the band fade away as bystanders, object lessons, or seat-fillers and Andrew’s fleeting attempts at romance are all about how Fletcher’s influence infects him with the same emotional brutality. We never really get to know girl left wounded by his insensitivity. Such oversights allow the film to slip out of the real world and into a stylized arena of musical warfare but it works in the scheme of things. Writer / director Damien Chazelle has basically created a two-hander and that collision of ruthless ambition and ferocious control is riveting. The jazz band pieces, especially the title song “Whiplash,” give the film a brittle edge; these tunes aren’t played to express musical joy, they are designed to showcase musical precision, and the percussion-heavy element puts the film on edge as successfully as the drum solos in Birdman define the nervous tension of that film.
Blu-ray and DVD both feature commentary by filmmaker Damien Chazelle and co-star J.K. Simmons and a Q&A from the Toronto Film Festival screening with Chazelle, Simmons, and Miles Teller. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is the original short film Chazelle shot with Simmons to help fund the film (Simmons’ son plays the role that Teller essays in the feature), the 40-minute drumming documentary “Timekeepers,” and a deleted scene, plus an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film. Also on Digital HD and cable and web VOD.
Big Hero 6 (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is an adaptation of a Marvel Comics title but the filmmakers thoroughly transform it into a Disney feature, complete with issues of loss and family at the center of the creation of a student superhero team, with the spark of Pixar in its visual invention and knowing wit. The comic book was set in Tokyo but this plays out in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, where adolescent robotics prodigy Hiro discovers that his science fair invention has been turned into a weapon and then transforms his engineer brother’s plush medical bot, Baymax, into the cuddliest, sweetest, most protective crimefighter the world has ever seen. Together with his brother’s best friends and fellow engineering students, they form a team of what you might call science heroes, turning their inventions into superhero accessories.
In a stronger year Big Hero 6 might not have won the Oscar—it doesn’t have the timelessness or universality of the best Pixar movies or the elemental fairy tale resonance of Disney’s best—but there is no denying the art and heart of the film. Scott Adsit (of 30 Rock) voices the robot Baymax as a gentle nanny turned inflatable transformer, like a giant plush doll with the instinct of a caregiver and the mind of an overprotective child, a little slow on the uptake but utterly benevolent. That level of compassion is comforting amidst the flashy chaos of a superhero spectacle.
This disc actually offers two Oscar winners: Best Animated Short Feast, which played in front of the film in theaters, is included as a supplement. It also offers two featurettes—”The Origin Story of Big Hero 6: Hiro’s Journey,” which follows the process of adaptation process from comic book to animate feature, and “Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters,” with the animators discussing the evolution of the characters on the screen—deleted scenes (in rough form, as they were removed in early stages of production; you can see one of them at the end of the post), and Easter Eggs for the kids to hunt for. The Blu-ray also features bonus DVD and Digital HD copies of the film.
God Told Me To (Blue Underground, Blu-ray, DVD), Larry Cohen’s subversive little 1976 horror film, mixes religion and UFO lore in inventive ways. Tony Lo Bianco stars as a New York City cop investigating a strange series of murders committed by citizens who have never broken the law before. When apprehended, they are devoid of emotion and coolly explain that they killed because “God told me too.” His investigation leads him to some disturbing revelations in his own family past.
The always unpredictable and devious low-budget auteur Cohen was an independent all through his career, slipping social commentary and sometimes heady ideas into his lively genre pictures. God Told Me To is one of his most interesting, spinning off von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods” with a few wild theories of his own for a not-too-radical interpretation of the Second Coming. It’s prime pre-X-Files alien conspiracy meets religious iconography, driven with edgy action scenes and unsettling explosions of violence from seemingly disconnected perpetrators. But Cohen never forgets to deliver the spectacle for his grindhouse audience. This is visceral and weird and one of the most original science fiction thrillers from the 1970s.
Blue Underground upgrades their DVD release from a decade ago with a new 4K HD transfer of the original negative. The commentary track by Larry Cohen (moderated by disc producer and fellow filmmaker Bill Lustig) is carried over from the DVD while the rest of the supplements are new to disc. There are two Q&A sessions with Cohen, one from a recent screening at the New Beverly, the other from a 2002 screening at Lincoln Center (both on low-definition video), and new video interviews with star Tony Lo Bianco and special effects artist Steve Neill, plus trailers, TV spots, and galleries of posters and stills.
Two landmarks of film history restored by Milestone—Shirley Clarke’s debut feature The Connection (Milestone, Blu-ray, DVD), a true American independent production before the term was ever coined, and the 1914 documentary In the Land of the Head Hunters (Milestone, Blu-ray, DVD), one of the first nonfiction features ever made—debut on disc with substantial supplements. Both will be covered in depth in a later feature.
More releases from Olive this week, including Ang Lee’s third feature (and first film to get an Oscar nomination) Eat Drink Man Woman (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), will get covered later this week in a spotlight on the label. The rest of week’s Olive garden includes Wild Orchid (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) with Mickey Rourke, William Friedkin’s The Night They Raided Minsky’s (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), Dangerously Close (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), and Blood Red (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD).
Also new and notable:
Beyond the Lights (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a self-destructive R&B diva struggling to find her own voice, as well as her own identity, in the highly-controlled business. It’s from filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood, the director of the superb Love & Basketball, and it co-stars Minnie Driver, Danny Glover, and Nate Parker.
Horrible Bosses 2 (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) reunites buddies Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis, now entrepreneurs who are cheated by business partners (Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine) and turn to their former bosses for tips on how to turn the tables. Maybe not the most reliable mentors. There’s also a re-release of the original Horrible Bosses: Totally Inappropriate Edition (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD).
Black Sunday (U.S. release version) (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) is pretty much for collectors and obsessives. Kino already released the full Italian cut of the film on Blu-ray and DVD with commentary. This is the original American release version, which runs a couple of minutes shorter and features a different score. Most people will be satisfied with the longer cut, but there are those who will need to collect both editions. You know who you are. No supplements with this one.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
Acorn TV recently premiered two British TV shows on their subscription streaming service before release on disc and American TV. The final three episodes of Foyle’s War, which has since moved on to the Cold War, and the 17th century mini-series New Worlds about turbulence England and the New World in the time of Charles II, with Jamie Dornan (of The Fall and Fifty Shades of Grey) and Alice Englert, are exclusively available through Acorn’s streaming service.
Serena (VOD), which reunites Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle co-stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, arrives on cable and internet VOD on Thursday, February 26, a month before it arrives in theaters.
Maps to the Stars (VOD), David Cronenberg’s sour portrait of Hollywood culture starring Julianne Moore as a frustrated actress in the shadow of her famous (and deceased) mother and Mia Wasikowska as a mysterious young woman who gets a job as her personal assistant, comes to VOD on Friday, February 27, the same day it opens in select theaters.
Also opening on VOD on Friday, same day as theaters, is The Salvation, a western with Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green; Wild Canaries, a Brooklyn-set American indie mystery that played at Sundance; and the documentary My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, a profile of the idiosyncratic director while making Only God Forgives, the reviled follow-up to his critical hit Drive.
Classics and Cult:
Oratorio for Prague (Facets, DVD)
The Beyond (Grindhouse, Blu-ray+CD)
The Frank Darabont Collection (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Majestic) (Warner, Blu-ray)
Watership Down (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Fellini Satyricon (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
American Gigolo (Warner, Blu-ray)
52 Pick-Up (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
Ten Seconds to Hell (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
New Year’s Evil (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
Satan’s Blade (Olive / Slasher // Video, DVD)
Gene Autrey: Movie Collection 9 (Timeless, DVD)
TV on disc:
Sons of Anarchy: The Final Season (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Sons of Anarchy: The Complete Series (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Serangoon Road (Acorn, DVD)
The Game (BBC, DVD)
The Whale (BBC, DVD)
Midsomer Murders: Set 25 (Acorn, DVD)
Lillies (2007) (Acorn, DVD)
Goodnight, Darling (MHz, DVD)
Salamander (MHz, DVD)
Cenk Batu: Undercover Agent (MHz, DVD)
American Masters: August Wilson – The Ground on Which I Stand (PBS, DVD)
The Italian Americans (PBS, DVD)
Mass Extinction: Life at the Brink (PBD, DVD)
Return to the Wild (PBD, DVD)
The Intruders (Sony, DVD, Digital HD)
Watchers of the Sky (Music Box, DVD, VOD)
Traitors (Film Movement, DVD)
Love Me (Film Movement, DVD)
Irreplaceable (Virgil, DVD, Digital)
Give Me Shelter (Virgil, DVD, Digital)
Daughters of Dolma (Alive Mind, DVD)
From the Alps: A Symphony of Summits (Strand, DVD)
Grace. (eOne, DVD, VOD)
The Shift (Cinedigm, DVD)
Outside Bet (Inception, DVD)
Code Black (Music Box, DVD, VOD)
Cyber-Seniors (Virgil, DVD, VOD)
Watchers of the Sky (Music Box, DVD, VOD)
VANish (Dark Sky, Blu-ray, DVD)
Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Green Street Hooligans: Underground (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
The Reagans (RLJ/Image, DVD)
Horse Camp (ARC, DVD, VOD)
The Master (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Final Prayer (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Zombieworld (RLJ/Image, DVD, Digital)