(Welcome to Not Dead Yet, a feature dedicated to what’s new on Blu-ray and what special features you should be excited about. Because yes, some of us still like to own physical copies of our movies.)
We’re almost there, folks! 2017 is almost at an end, and as we burn through the holiday season, it’s time to kick back and catch up on some new films you might’ve missed in theaters. That’s where good old Blu-rays come in. Yes, that’s right – there’s more to movies than streaming. Pretty sure I mentioned that before. I’ve put together a jam-packed new Blu-ray round-up for you to close out the year. There’s a lot of good stuff here, including one of Christopher Nolan’s best films; a polarizing horror movie from Darren Aronofsky; a surprisingly honest biopic; a harrowing Kathryn Bigelow drama based on a true story; yet another one of those dang Lego movies; a spy sequel; and a true crime miniseries. Here are the new Blu-ray releases you should check out this week.
Christopher Nolan crafts one of his most meticulous films with Dunkirk, a war movie that’s less about fighting and more about survival. Nolan draws on the real-life Battle of Dunkirk, and the mad-dash to evacuate trapped British soldiers that followed, building a three-pronged narrative set on land, sea and air. At first, these three threads seem as if they’re independent of one another, but slowly and surely, Nolan draws them all together until they merge into one complete story.
This is one of Nolan’s best films, and a perfect example of his ever-evolving technical abilities. Few filmmakers right now are working on a scale this large, with this type of commitment to the craft. That said, Dunkirk won’t be for everyone. It’s a surprisingly abstract movie – long stretches unfold with little to no dialogue, and a good portion of the soldiers are interchangeable, character-wise. Yet the film also has stellar turns from actors like Mark Rylance, playing a good-hearted hero, and Tom Hardy, playing a cool-as-ice Spitfire pilot.
Nolan shot a huge portion of Dunkirk with IMAX cameras, and while this technique worked magnificently on the big screen, it calls attention to itself a bit too much on Blu-ray. Whenever a scene switches to IMAX, the frame on your TV will expand. It can be distracting now and then, but not detrimentally so. All in all, Dunkirk is one of the year’s best films, and Nolan fans will surely want to snap this Blu-ray release up.
Special Features To Note: Of all the new Blu-ray releases this week, Dunkirk is the top pick. There’s a wealth of mini-documentary features that cover nearly every element of the production of Dunkirk. Nolan is one of those filmmakers who will likely never do a director’s commentary again, so if you’re looking for his insight into the filmmaking process as a whole, these features are a goldmine. Nolan gives a breakdown of how he approached the film both technically and thematically, and it’s clear this whole project was a labor of love.
A good portion of this is devoted to shooting the film with the huge IMAX cameras. “Dunkirk is a huge story, and it demanded an enormous canvas,” Nolan says of shooting in the large format. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema talks about how he worked to make the clunky IMAX cameras as handheld as possible, which was very physically demanding. There’s also footage of van Hoytema sitting in the cockpit of a real plane as it zooms and rolls through the air, giving the cinematographer a chance to figure out how to shoot the aerial battles.
Nolan and company worked to create as many of the film’s special effects in-camera rather than than relying on CGI. The crew talks about how Nolan would rather use no visual effects at all if possible, and when he has to, it’ll always be a combination of practical effects mixed in with CGI. The features here are an overall thorough look at the creation of the film.
Special Features Include:
- Creation: Revisiting the Miracle
- Creation: Dunkerque
- Creation: Expanding the Frame
- Creation: The In-Camera Approach
- Land: Rebuilding the Mole
- Land: The Army On the Beach
- Land: Uniform Approach
- Air: Taking to the Air
- Air: Inside the Cockpit
- Sea: Assembling the Naval Fleet
- Sea: Launching the Moonstone
- Sea: Taking to the Sea
- Sea: Sinking the Ships
- Sea: The Little Ships
- Conclusion: Turning Up the Tension
- Conclusion: The Dunkirk Spirit
I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Darren Aronofsky’s mother! would end up being one of the most divisive films of the year, but here we are. An utterly bonkers examination of toxic men who see their female muses as objects for their own personal benefit and little else, mother! is a trippy, shocking, nasty horror movie that starts off like a home invasion thriller and then descends into utter chaos.
Jennifer Lawrence plays a woman who wants nothing more than to fix up her husband’s old family home while said husband (played by Javier Bardem) works on his writing. Things go quickly awry, however, when a stranger (Ed Harris) shows up at the front door and ends up staying the night. The next day, the stranger’s wife (a gloriously wicked Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, and things get even worse. From here you can sort of guess where mother! is going, but just when you assume you have this story figured out, Aronofsky pulls the rug out from under you and unleashes hell.
But does it work? There’s no clear answer to that. Some people loved the fever dream that Aronofsky was selling here, while others thought this flick was an abomination. As for me, I’m somewhere in the middle. I appreciate how fucking nuts this movie is, and how committed Aronofsky is to making the madness increase with every single moment, but I also think the film doesn’t quite come together the way it should. Part of the problem is Lawrence – a talented actress who is nonetheless wrong for this part. Yet for all its flaws, mother! is so unlike anything else you’ve seen in some time that it’s hard not to commend the film for daring to be weird.
Special Features To Note: This would definitely be my second pick for all the new Blu-ray releases of the week. You just have to see this movie. The documentary mother! The Downward Spiral tracks the making of Aronofsky’s film, from conception to rehearsal to filming. Aronofsky says here that he wanted to “make something that’s very grounded but then slowly lifts out of realism as the film progresses,” and he certainly achieved that.
We learn through this feature that Aronofsky and the cast actually spent three months rehearsing the film, and Aronofsky went so far as to film the entire rehearsal. That is a long time for rehearsal for a film; it’s the type of thing one tends to do for a play, not a motion picture.
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique points out an element of the film that many may miss: almost the entire movie is shot with three distinct angles: one, over Jennifer Lawrence’s shoulder; two, a close-up of Lawrence from the neck up, “because you’re not conscious of your body when you’re walking around,” says Libatique; and three, via a point of view shot. This is the language of the film, and it helps to put us almost entirely within Lawrence’s headspace.
The only other feature is The Makeup FX of mother!, which details the creation of some of the nastier, gorier effects in the film, including a blown-off face, a toilet monster, a burnt-to-a-crisp body, and a robot baby. Like I said the movie is weird. My only complaint with this release: there are no features here that teach you how to brace a sink.
Special Features Include:
- mother! The Downward Spiral
- The Makeup FX of mother!