Star Trek Beyond (Paramount, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, 4K Ultra HD, DVD, Digital, VOD) is the third feature in the “when they were young” reboot of the franchise and the first one since J.J. Abrams left Federation space for a galaxy long ago and far, far away. Justin Lin, who souped up the stalling The Fast and the Furious sequels into a series of high octane action hits, takes the captain’s chair on this outing and it is refreshing. He doesn’t bother attempting to reinvent the series, merely deliver a warp-speed adventure that makes good use of the youth of the cast while leaning on a chemistry that Abrams’ films never fully achieved.
The film opens with the band on the verge of break-up; after three years exploring strange, new worlds, they are returning to the promise new assignments and well-earned promotions. Even Chris Pine’s impulsive Captain Kirk, the young maverick Captain of the staid military fleet, is unusually restrained, and the sniping between Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) is spikier than usual, even with the evident comradeship that has grown since the last film. There’s just one last routine mission that, of course, proves to be anything but. A beacon lures them into the space equivalent to the Bermuda Triangle, where communications are blocked and navigation is distorted, and they are ambushed and overwhelmed by a swarm of techno-bees that burrows into the Enterprise hull and tears it to pieces that rain down on the planet below. The villain Krall (Idriss Elba under ungainly prosthetics) is an immortal madman that feeds on allies and prisoners alike to fulfull his missions of vengeance on the Federation and the Enterprise has the final piece in his ultimate weapon. You know, standard space opera stuff.
Lin brings his action movie A-game to the film, crashing the Enterprise in a spectacle that is thrilling as well as oddly reverent, scattering the crew on a planet filled with the wreckage of previous victimized ships, and pulling them back together in a battle that turns Kirk into Steve McQueen on a vintage motorcycle zipping and jumping through the battle plan that involves the creative use of a makeshift transporter. He also has the added chemical energy of a young female warrior named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a sparky presence who joins the team without losing her distinctive charge. She’s a great addition to the Trek universe.
Credit also goes to screenwriters Doug Jung and Simon Pegg, the latter being the Scottish fanboy scribe and comic actor behind Shaun of the Dead who landed his dream role of playing Scotty back in the 2009 reboot. Now he writes his own Trek adventure and meets the challenge by rejuvenating the personalities of the beloved characters by splitting the team into unexpected groupings: Captain Kirk with boyish Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and chatty Scotty, an injured McCoy more put upon than usual when he has to literally lean on Spock for survival, Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) organizing a prison break. Unlike the Abrams films, these characters separate their personal issues (and there a few) from their working relationship and the fun is in watching them come together, pick up cues and follow the lead of another. They click like a team that has been forged under fire, which makes this the first film of this generation where they act like the characters that inspired the reboot. Star Trek Beyond doesn’t reinvent the series but it celebrates the inspiration with aplomb.
The DVD has no supplements. The Blu-ray includes an hour of deleted scenes and nine featurettes. The longest, “Beyond the Darkness,” is a general “making of” that runs ten minutes. Other featurettes look at the destruction of the Enterprise, the villain, production design, alien design, shooting in Dubai, and a tribute to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, who both passed away before the film was released. There’s also a gag reel and bonus DVD and Ultraviolent Digital HD copies of the film.
Captain Fantastic (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD) is a road movie, a family drama, a tale of loss, and a loving portrait of an alternative family that is prepared to face everything but the modern world.
Viggo Mortensen is Ben, the father who (with his equally committed but currently absent wife) moved into the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest to raise their six children outside of society and off the grid. Ben is running the show as a single parent when we arrive at their rustic home—his wife has been hospitalized for a bi-polar disorder—putting them through survivalist boot camp in the mornings and home schooling them in the evenings (a mix of leftist political theory, critical thinking, and literary classics). And then comes the news that his wife has killed herself and her parents (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd), who blame him for her illness, have forbidden him to attend the funeral. So of course this modern bohemian family defies the man and hits the highway in their retrofitted school bus for a road trip to New Mexico to crash the services and carry out the instructions of mom’s living will. It’s the first time these kids have ever really interacted with the world outside their idealistic bubble, at least for more than a couple of hours at a time. Pop culture is a foreign land and social media a mystery.
This is the kind of film that could slip into parody, turning the kids into wide-eyed naïfs goggle-eyed at fast food and cell phone addiction. And while there is a bit of that, the film celebrates their intelligence and knowledge and, especially, their ability to think and engage intelligently on any subject, while also acknowledging their lack of practical social skills, something unnecessary in their little Walden but vital to give the kids a real choice of future when they become adults. That becomes clear to Bo (George MacKay), the eldest child, when he meets a girl at a trailer campsite and realizes he doesn’t know how to talk to anyone outside of his family.
Mortensen brings a quiet authority to father Ben, an intellectual who both celebrates “Noam Chomsky Day” and marks Bo’s adulthood with a bear hunt. He speaks frankly and directly with his kids and turns their odyssey into modern America into a lesson in the evils of capitalism and corporate culture, and it’s to Mortensen’s credit that he does so without slipping into empty sloganeering or political cartoon. He does it all with love, and perhaps a little fear. Like all parents, there is a desire to protect them from the big bad world, and this is a journey into the belly of the beast, personified by father-in-law Langella, a rich Republican who only sees ruin for kids raised without knowledge of how the world works.
This is a culture that could easily slip into cult insularity, either by design or simply isolation. Writer/director Matt Ross avoids the whole issue and offers an idealized portrait of best intentions come to fruition while also recognizing the limitations of such rejection of the material world. While he could have brought more nuance and complication to their situation, he also directs with a sense of humor that neither condescends to nor ridicules its characters and a loving warmth that suggests a certain protectiveness of these kids. He values their independence, their intelligence, and their devotion to one another. There’s one adolescent in rebellion mode, blaming his father for his mother’s death and roiling with the supercharged emotions of puberty, but these self-sufficient kids think of family as a partnership and are committed to their lifestyle. Far from blaming dad for the deprivation of video games and iPods, they take pride in their abilities and accomplishments, and that kind of self-confidence and self-awareness is an ideal I can get behind.
Blu-ray and DVD with the featurette “Insane or Insanely Great.” The Blu-ray also includes bonus DVD and Ultraviolent Digital HD copies of the film.
Imperium (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD), an undercover thriller “inspired by real events” (which I guess is a step removed from “based on a true story”), stars Daniel Radcliffe as an FBI analyst who goes undercover in the White Supremacist culture to track a deadly cargo of radioactive material. The butt of jokes around the office, the smart and cultured but socially awkward Nate takes this opportunity to get off the desk and into the field. It’s also an opportunity for Radcliffe to shuck off a little more of his Harry Potter innocence as Nate shaves his head and blithely tosses out anti-Semitic remarks and racist epithets to prove his bona-fides to the skinhead punks, militia leaders, neo-Nazis, and media demagogues of the movement. Nate’s cover is that of a disillusioned ex-Marine disillusioned and while his slight frame doesn’t quite match the backstory, he brings a steely calm and confidence to his undercover alter-ego.
The script sends him through a series of tests that differs from the undercover thriller template only in the details and director Daniel Ragussis, who also scripted, never manages to wind up the tension. But if we’re never on the edge of our seats, it delivers a portrait of a movement that sucks up the angry, disappointed whites who see their failures as a conspiracy of disenfranchisement by pointing the finger at Jews, African-Americans, Hispanics, Arabs, and pretty much anyone that looks different from them. Nothing revelatory but it is engaging, thanks to Radcliffe as an outcast who fits in not because he buys any of the malarkey but because he understands feeling left out. He gets to like these people, even if he abhors their beliefs. And with so many portraits of the racist fringe bordering on cartoon, it’s worth being reminded that real people get caught up in the propaganda and twisted into hateful beliefs.
Blu-ray and DVD with filmmaker commentary, the featurettes “Living Undercover” and “Making Imperium,” and cast and crew interviews, plus a bonus Ultraviolet Digital copy of the film.
Anthropoid (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD) dramatizes the real-life operation to assassinate SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the Final Solution and Hitler’s third in command in the Nazi hierarchy. The title may sound like some mutant science fiction thriller but is on fact the named after the operation code name. The weight of history does seem to drag the film down at times—paragraphs of historical background set the context before the first scene begins—and we can get lost in the big cast of players and conflicting interests, but it has an attention to detail that is fascinating in its own right.
Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan headline the cast as the two nominal leaders of the seven-man team of exiled Czech soldiers parachuted into Czechoslovakia with orders to kill Heydrich, whose reign of terror and oppression on the occupied country has almost crushed the Resistance (it earned him the nickname “The Butcher of Prague”). There’s tension almost immediately between the domestic Resistance fighters, who have suffered all the losses and foresee only more reprisals from this operation, and the operatives who have been safely in London during the terror. In fact, the entire film is built on low-key tension as the mission is debated and the soldiers begins their surveillance of Heydrich, one of the most well-guarded officers in the Nazi command, to find a weakness or an opening. Sean Ellis, who directs and co-scripts, is very deliberate in his development until it explodes around the halfway point. Not in the kind of spectacle you get from a Hollywood entertainment or a Tarantino joint but in the messy, ragged manner of rebels with nothing to lose. It’s hard to call it thrilling but it is riveting and compelling and it reminds us what was sacrificed to stop the Nazis—not just the strike team but everyone in the resistance and thousands of civilians besides—in full awareness of the consequences.
Blu-ray and DVD with the featurette “The Making of Anthropoid” and storyboard to film comparisons. The Blu-ray also includes bonus DVD and Ultraviolent Digital HD copies of the film.
Also new and notable:
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD) is a different kind of animated superhero film, a flashback to the tongue-in-cheek approach of the 1960s Batman TV series. The 78-minute feature features the hand drawn style of previous DCU Original Animation superhero features (which evokes the simple style of Super Friends and other animated shows of the 1970s), a step up from TV animation but short of the Pixar and DreamWorks Animation standard. To complete the nostalgic wayback machine, Adam West and Burt Ward reunite to voice the Dynamic Duo and Julie Newmar purrs the Catwoman to caricatures of their TV personae. In other words, this is a lark, a self-aware spoof that embraces the painful puns, alliterative exclamations, and deadpan delivery of the old show, right down to the Bat-gimmicks of the utility belt, with a plot that refuses to take itself seriously. Catwoman doses Batman with a potion to turn him into a villain and he turns into a one-man army taking over Gotham with the help of a buggy Replicator Ray. Holy masked Mussolini! Robin strikes an unlikely alliance with Catwoman, whose purring flirtatiousness with the Boy Wonder is the high point of this exercise in eccentricity.
It works best as a knowing tribute to a cult show, playing to fans already in on the joke. While the animation has a stiffness that, though appropriate to the panel-like posing of the live-action show, tends to stiffness, it also allows the filmmakers to populate the screen with dozens of blank-faced Batmans in a free-for-all with a role call of classic TV villains (the ultimate call-out of animated cameos) and send the cast into space for an episode. It’s an exercise in juvenilia for grown-ups. Saints preserve us!
The DVD has no extras. The Blu-ray edition includes the featurettes “A Classic Cadre of Voices” and “Those Dastardly Desperados,” plus bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: Big Hairy American Winning Edition (Sony, Blu-ray) is a new two-disc edition of what is arguably Will Ferrell’s funniest film. Ferrell writes (with director Adam McKay) and stars as a NASCAR driver who outraces his own intellect in the hit comedy that features neither a ballad nor a single night spent in Talladega. It does, however, feature John C. Reilly as the equally dim but exceedingly loyal best friend, Gary Cole as the absent father who periodically appears to gravely intone meaningless aphorisms with a beer in his hand, Leslie Bibb as his shameless gold-digger of a wife, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the flamboyantly gay and aggressively French champion who steals Ricky’s days of thunder. Ferrell and McKay embrace the ensemble and hand some of the funniest scenes to Ferrell’s co-stars, including the talented kids who play his bratty boys and Jane Lynch as Ferrell’s mom, who whips the boys into shape with a smile. Features both the original PG-13 theatrical and the unrated extended versions of the film, plus more outtakes and deleted scenes among the new batch of additional supplements.
The Exorcist III: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray) – Author William Peter Blatty writes and directs this 1990 sequel himself and it’s a surprisingly effective little horror tale with George C. Scott (taking over the cop role from Lee J. Cobb), Ed Flanders, Brad Dourif, Nicol Williamson, and the return of Jason Miller as the tormented priest still being tortured by the devil. This edition features a new 2K master plus a new “Director’s Cut” of the film (new material is taken from footage preserved on VHS with the expected drop in quality) and new cast and creator interviews, along with supplements carried over from previous home video releases.
The Quiet Man: Olive Signature (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) gives the film the special edition treatment, with a new encoding of the 4K restoration used in Olive’s previous release and a new batch of supplements, including commentary by John Ford biographer Joseph McBride and a visual essay by Tag Gallagher. Review to come.
I Wake Up Screaming (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray) is not just one of the great movie titles of classic cinema, it is one of the films that established the distinctive style and attitude of film noir. I’ll be featuring this in a special “Noirvember” feature that includes other noir titles getting the Blu-ray treatment later this month.
The new batch of Twilight Time discs includes Martin Scorsese’s second feature Boxcar Bertha (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), a straight work-for-hire job he took for Roger Corman at AIP and his first commercial production. You could say he passed the audition. As with all Twilight Time releases, it includes an isolated score track and a booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo and is limited to 3000 copies.
Also new from Twilight Time: the stripped-down art movie action thriller Runaway Train (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), which was based on an unproduced screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Robert Aldrich’s Southern Gothic Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) with Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, and Joseph Cotten, and Arthur Penn’s star-studded The Chase (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) with Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Miriam Hopkins, and Robert Duvall. All three of these have commentary tracks in addition to the usual supplements.
There’s also an Encore Edition of a title that was previously sold out: John Frankenheimer’s The Train (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) with Burt Lancaster. Like the original release, it has two commentary tracks. They’ll be covered in a future feature.
Classics and Cult:
The Executioner (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Tree of Wooden Clogs (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Night of the Grizzly: Olive Signature (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Ugly, Dirty and Bad (Film Movement, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray)
The Battle of the Sexes (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Dark Water (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD)
Manhattan Baby (Blue Underground, Blu-ray+DVD)
Boy on a Dolphin (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray)
Wolf Lake (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Killing of America (Severin, Blu-ray, DVD)
Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD)
The Trail of Dracula (Intervision, DVD)
Vampire Ecstasy (Film Movement, Blu-ray, DVD)
Sin You Sinners (Film Movement, Blu-ray, DVD)
TV on disc:
Outlander: Season Two (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Librarians: Season One (Sony, DVD)
The Durrells in Corfu: The Complete First Season (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)
Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Volume 2 (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD)
Janet King: Series 2 – The Invisible Wound (Acorn, DVD)
More new releases:
Bad Moms (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Sea of Trees (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Nine Lives (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
My Blind Brother (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
Lights Out (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Nerve (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Skiptrace (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Papa: Hemingway in Cuba (Lionsgate, DVD)
Zoom (Cinedigm, DVD)
The Idol (Adopt, DVD)
Mr. Church (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Last Film Festival (Monterey, Blu-ray, DVD)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Sony, Blu-ray)
Carnage Park (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
Reign of Assassins (Anchor Bay, DVD)
The Lost Bladesman (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Gleason (Sony, DVD)
Tickled (Magnolia, DVD)
Lucha Mexico (Kino Lorber, DVD)
Gypsy (2015) (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
Leonard Bernstein’s Candide in Concert (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)