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Blu-ray Reviews for December 19, 2017

Selections from this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of reviews. Click on any of the following titles to navigate directly to that review. This week’s releases include: the quirky but stupid John Cusack thriller Blood Money; Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk; the unnecessary Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel Leatherface (aka the Teenage Chainsaw Massacre because I’m unbearably hilarious); the next step in the Lego Movie franchise The Lego Ninjago Movie; Darren Aronofsky’s booed-for-a-reason-at-the-Venice-Film-Festival horror film mother!; and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Boston bombing drama Stronger. A list of other titles also available this week can be found at the end.


Distributor: Lionsgate

Three friends on a wilderness excursion stumble upon bags of money and suddenly must outrun a white collar criminal (John Cusack) hell-bent on retrieving his fortune. Soon, greed and mistrust turns the friends against each other as they wage a desperate fight for survival.

Day by day, the “boys club” of Lionsgate continues to increase their output. What is this boys club? Why, it’s a cadre of actors who seem to be making a large part of their living by appearing in quiet Lionsgate releases destined for the VOD and DTV market. If there were a President of this club, it would be Bruce Willis. Nicolas Cage would be Vice President. And John Cusack seems to be gunning for a seat at the table.

Shaking loose of the generally underwhelming and tepid thrillers that these actors tend to grasp onto, Blood Money is actually fairly well made and pretty entertaining, stressing characterization as much as plot machinations. This comes courtesy of Lucky McKee, the cult director whose career so far consists of mostly horror titles, including May, his debut and still most celebrated of his career. In my recent write-up 20 Alternative Films for Halloween Night, where I covered his second film, The Woods, I’d wondered just what in the world McKee had been up to. And now I know: directing John Cusack thrillers.

And speaking of, John Cusack is a lot of fun in this, trying on a villainous role (which he’s done before), but playing his character as a guy entirely new to crime and sort of recognizing along the way that he’s in over his head. His Miller is an underachiever; someone lazy, uninspired, and not that disciplined, and he derives a lot of unexpected comedy that somehow works. As he frantically fires bullets into the woods at our terrorized kids, he actually apologizes — and you can tell he means it. It’s a little bizarre, but Cusack makes it work, and it honestly makes you like his character, even if you probably shouldn’t.

Helping that conflicted take on his character is the extreme unlikability of another character: Lynne, as played by Willa Fitzgerald. You’ll never encounter a more unlikeable character who is still supposed to be a “good guy” in cinema — ever. Of that I’m confident. Early on she reveals her ruthlessness and selfishness, and from then on it only gets worse. (At one point, even Cusack’s villainous Miller says to her, “You are just a terrible, terrible person,” which is not just the best laugh-line in the movie, but one that puts her entire character in the audience’s crosshairs: I mean, if the villain thinks she’s terrible…) She transitions into such a cold and unfeeling person that the more her two male friends, both of whom are smitten with her, follow along, the more you begin to wonder if McKee and screenwriters Jared Butler and Lars Norbergare are making Blood Money less about an easy payday and more a statement on the utter spinelessness of men and the abuse they’re willing to suffer in the presence of a pretty face. (One of these spineless men is Ellar Coltrane, whose acting has only marginally improved since his appearance in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.)

Blood Money is worth it for Cusack’s odd and at times hilarious villain and some nice directorial flourishes by McKee, but otherwise it’s a fairly ho-hum thriller with an ending that will leave you extremely aggravated. Rent it.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Blood Money was shot in the wilds of Georgia, in the woods and along rivers, and it all photographs very well. More and more low budget thrillers like these are embracing digital photography, so the picture is very stable and clean. Clarity is very good, although there aren’t too many opportunities to show off a tremendous amount of detail. Audio gets the job done. There’s obviously constant environmental ambiance, which helps keep the viewer engaged in the setting. Dialogue is clean and clear as well.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • “Blood Money Uncovered” Featurette

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Dunkirk opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces. Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in. The story unfolds on land, sea and air. RAF Spitfires engage the enemy in the skies above the Channel, trying to protect the defenseless men below. Meanwhile, hundreds of small boats manned by both military and civilians are mounting a desperate rescue effort, risking their lives in a race against time to save even a fraction of their army.

Steven Spielberg, over the last 20 years, has adopted a practice that’s become known as “one for them, one for me,” which is how he chooses his projects. He makes one film “for them” — the audience who wants the big and fun tentpole — “and me” — the more personal and intimate story that he feels compelled to tell. Think Munich (“for me”) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Crystal Skull (“for them” — and thanks for nothing, by the way). Christopher Nolan, through his extremely successful (and profitable) tenure with Warner Bros., has been embarking on the same journey — and billions of Batman revenue has made the studio pretty amenable to keeping Nolan codified. But even then, his more personal films have still been bigger than life. His “one for me” films consist of The Prestige, Inception, and Interstellar, all of which have still managed to find a wide audience while satisfying his itch to tell those less broad kinds of stories. Like Spielberg, these kinds of non-mainstream tentpoles also found success at the box office.

So it’s kind of appropriate that Nolan’s latest finds him in World War II territory, which Spielberg previously explored with Saving Private Ryan (perhaps his best “one for me” film).

Dunkirk shows Nolan at his most experimental since Memento — not because of the story he’s telling, but in the way he chooses to tell it. This wartime experience is told by three separate groups of people, who for the most part never share screen time with each other (including fighter pilot Farrier, played by Tom Hardy, who conceals his face for most of his screen time with his jet’s face gear). It’s not quite real time, but it feels damn close, and there’s an intent on both Nolan’s part, as well as composer Hans Zimmer, to never let the tension cut. Whether it’s two soldiers trying to “buy” their way onto a rescue ship by carrying a wounded soldier on a stretcher, or a father and son civilian team steering their boat to the Dunkirk coast to transport soldiers home, or a trio of fighter pilots trying to quell the enemy in the air, Nolan never lets the looming threat settle, and Zimmer’s music slowly, slowly, slowly builds, rarely taking a break.

There’s been some minor guff online about Nolan’s audacity in making a PG-13 war film, because war in real life is brutal, and hence… But once you see that Nolan isn’t interested in shooting something as grisly as Saving Pivate Ryan’s Normandy Beach invasion, all of that falls by the wayside. There’s very little blood in Dunkirk and almost no violence, but it never feels “missing” so much as it becomes known early on that it’s simply not necessary.

Where Dunkirk falters is in its characterization, with its various characters being defined as: scared, patriotic, and brave. In the case of the former, this unfairly taints the audience’s view of the few soldiers on screen who have every right to have been psychologically ravaged by war, but who don’t have the audience’s sympathies, anyway. The film opens with young soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) first running from enemy fire as his fellow soldiers are shot down, and then trying to take a shit on a beach, and then attempting to sneak on board a rescue ship, later defying orders from a superior officer to scram and hiding below the docks. This is our first impression of Tommy, who says more than once throughout that he “just wants to go home,” and he’s not someone the audience can become fully invested in. Between the treatment of this character, and things like Tom Hardy’s one-note performance, during which he makes the Tom Hardy face the whole time (and who I swear tries to sound a little like Bane in some scenes just to fuck with people), Dunkirk is better left top revel in its IMAX-shot war scenes than with the characters participating in them. 

Dunkirk is a solid wartime film, and Nolan’s overall best since Inception, but its somewhat cold depiction of its characters muddy the waters of what the audience has come to expect by now of their on-screen war heros. In this regard, it’s no Saving Private Ryan.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Dunkirk on Blu-ray looks and sounds amazing, which shouldn’t be a surprise. Warners continues to do strong work in high-def with its titles, and Dunkirk’s visuals and especially audio lend itself to that kind of visceral experience. If there’s such a thing as reference quality, it’s this presentation. The audio presentation is likely one of the best of the year, in any genre. 

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • 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


Distributor: Lionsgate

In Texas, years before the events of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, in the early days of the infamous Sawyer family, the youngest child is sentenced to a mental hospital after a suspicious incident leaves the sheriff’s daughter dead. Ten years later, he kidnaps a young nurse and escapes with three other inmates. Pursued by authorities, including the deranged sheriff out to avenge his daughter’s death, the Sawyer teen goes on a violent road trip from hell, molding him into the monster now known as Leatherface.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has the oddest trajectory of all the long-running horror series, even including Hellraiser, which eventually saw Pinhead haunting a website (or something). The first was a landmark horror classic; the second, a Cannon Films-produced black comedy (which I detest); the third, basically a remake of the original, only not as good; and the fourth, an utterly insane direct sequel to the original which starred a pre-fame and totally bonkers Matthew McConaughey and a typically mousy Renee Zellweger; Leatherface was a crossdresser and the murderous Sawyer family had apparently been installed by a shadowy underground operation for the purposes of studying “real horror.” It makes absolutely no sense, all the characters are eccentric as hell (even the teenage victims), and McConaughey’s murderous Vilmer has a remote control for his robotic leg brace. If you haven’t seen it, you should, because it’s hilarious. Then came the remake, which was good; the prequel to the remake, which was bad; and Texas Chainsaw 3D, which was, again, a direct sequel to the original (not the remake), and also the worst entry yet. Confused yet?

French directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury burst onto the American horror scene when Dimension Films acquired their home-invasion shocker Inside (À l’intérieur) for distribution. Since then, Dimension owners the Weinsteins (run!) tried to get the duo involved with several of their other horror properties, such as the long-mooted Hellraiser remake and an early iteration of Halloween 2 before Rob Zombie returned to make something even worse than his remake. For whatever reason, the duo couldn’t find their footing with either.

Moving down the horror figurehead list, they bring us the succinctly titled Leatherface, which borrows its moniker from the first-round Part 3, and which explores Leatherface…as a teenager.

Sigh.

A common complaint worth repeating: not everything, or everyone, needs an origin story. Bates Motel, while an entertaining series, spends fifty episodes saying “Norman is crazy.” The Nightmare on Elm Street remake tried to muddy Freddy’s origins by suggesting, maybe, that he was framed. (Spoiler: he wasn’t.) And Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween finally answered the burning question we’ve all had about Michael Myers for 40 years: just WHERE did he get his jumpsuit? What filmmakers and studios fail to realize is that, sometimes, mystique is okay. We don’t need everything spelled out. Sometimes it’s scarier if we don’t know. And the weirdest part is that the goal of this always seems to be so we can sympathize with masked maniacs, pedophile dream stalkers, and murderous cannibals.

Why do you want this from us? IT’S WEIRD.

Leatherface juggles numerous unlikely inspirations — Of Mice and Men, Mystic River, Badlands — all while marrying it to one of the biggest horror franchises in cinema history, and with so much of this going on, it can’t help but make the film feel so different, and by result make Leatherface feel so different, that it’s out of sorts with the rest of the series. Even the worst entries before this one at least felt like a proper Texas Chainsaw Massacre entry — even the ridiculous McConaughey one. You’ll note that this is the second prequel in the series. If they go for a third, I hope they call it Leatherbaby. (But in all seriousness, maybe a filmmaker can finally step up and make the definitive biopic on serial killer Ed Gein, who inspired Norman Bates, Leatherface, Hannibal Lecter, and Buffalo Bill — now how’s that for an origin story?)

The whole Ten Little Indians-ish, “which troubled youth is Leatherface?” angle is, frankly, stupid, and the film very obviously points to one character in particular as the titular cannibal, so when a twist occurs and points to an entirely different character being the titular madman, which I think is supposed to be surprising, the viewer, instead, looks blankly at the television and says, “No shit.” And once this twist occurs, and you spend the rest of this time knowing this character is Leatherface, it absolutely robs him of any fear he would go on to inspire in the original. Somehow he goes from a teen who can think and reason and even empathize to a human-face-wearing mute mongoloid who only communicates by shrieking and wagging his tongue around his lips like a pervert. Seriously, Leatherface sucks.

Lili Taylor does strong work as the Sawyer family matriarch, and any project is better for having her, but she deserves much better. Same said for Stephen Dorff. It’s a wonder that either of them appear in, essentially, part eight of a long-running slasher franchise, and one that landed with such a quiet thud. (This will be the first Chainsaw film in 24 years that didn’t get a wide theatrical release.)

It’s also incredibly violent. And I can see you rolling your eyes and pushing up your glasses and asking me, “Well, what did you expect?” and in response I push up my own glasses and nerdly remind you that the amount of blood spilled in the original could probably fill a thimble; it contained very little violence and showed only one chainsaw murder — the violence of which was left off-screen. (So shut it.) Leatherface is not cut from the same cloth. It’s very bloody, very violent, and very depraved. If characters being slowly chainsawed apart on screen digit by digit or a psycho girl licking the gooey face of a rotting corpse while having trailer sex is your idea of a good time, then have at it, weirdo. A prequel story to the original it may be, but its execution shares very little in common with the stylistic approach and aesthetics of the film that inspired it.

Had Leatherface been called anything else — Cannibal Run, for instance (Are you proud? I seriously just made that up on the spot.) — it would offer a reasonable amount of nonsense escapism. It’s well made enough in the gonzo sense, it’s attractively photographed, and the bloodiness and gags will definitely entertain the gorehounds. Most importantly, it wouldn’t be weighed down by those pesky terms “legacy” “and  “classic” and “iconic.” But as the official backstory of Jedidiah ‘Leatherface’ Sawyer, it feels rote, unwelcome, and just plain wrong.

PICTURE & SOUND:

In the supplements on this release, participants confirm that Leatherface serves as a prequel to the original film as opposed to the remake, but honestly, you can pick your era for which it can be considered cannon. (Honestly, don’t expend the effort choosing your preferred era. It’s really not worth it.) Stylistically, Leatherface looks much more like the newer Platinum Dunes era, and with those films being set during the mid-70s, the timeline in Leatherface matches up to those as well. Everything is tinged in gold and sepia. Quite frankly, some of the shop composition is pretty beautiful (that’s where the Badlands influence comes in — Terrence Malick would be so proud). Clarity and the presentation of detail is excellent. Hope you like goo! Audio is equally good. As you might imagine, there’s a lot of screaming, a lot of chaos, some chainsawing, and more goo (this time in sound form — yes, goo makes noise in Leatherface).

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • “Behind the Bloody Mask: Making Leatherface” Featurette
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Alternate Opening
  • Alternate Ending


Distributor: Warner Bros.

In the battle for NINJAGO® City, Lloyd (Dave Franco), high school student by day and Green Ninja by night, gets thrown into the ultimate adventure with his secret ninja warrior friends! Led by the wise and wisecracking Master Wu (Jackie Chan), they must defeat evil warlord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), The Worst Guy Ever, who also happens to be Lloyd’s dad. On their courageous journey, they learn to band together to unleash their inner power in an epic showdown to save the city.

I’m not sure anyone expected any of the Lego films to be as entertaining as they have been. Cynical minds read headlines about films being greenlit that are based on toys and they immediately shut down any possibility that they could be good. Crap like Battleship or Ouija, even though their inspirations’ gameplay are very basic, at least suggest a plot. Legos don’t. They’re blocks that snap together and really really hurt when you step on them in bare feet. That’s it. But yet The Lego Movie was a blast, and its spin-off, The Batman Lego Movie, was even better, and got a lot of mileage from Will Arnett’s voice work and the film’s take on a self-serious Bruce Wayne who has totally bought into his own hype. The Batman Lego Movie not only continued to buck the trend of vapid films adapted from things as well as avoid the sophomore slump, but honestly proved to be the best Batman film since The Dark Knight.

We should consider ourselves lucky that such an empty-seeming concept for a franchise had gotten us that far, because The Lego Ninjago Movie is about the caliber of movie our cynical minds originally expected back during the announcement of The Lego Movie. It’s a very average presentation, made in the same mold as its frantic predecessors but still somehow lacking that same kind of spark which made them so fun to watch. The driving force of those previous had been its use of clever comedy, aided by the presence of comedy rejuvenators Chris Miller and Phil Lord (the 21 Jump Street series), who reduced their roles to that of producer so they could helm and be fired from the Star Wars spin off film Solo. The directing responsibilities then fell to the trio Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan (with a lot more folks having writing credits — seven people to write a script about Ninja legos), who do their best but can’t manage the same kind of laughs, falling back on broader humor that’s manufactured to feel like it belongs in a Lego movie.

The voice work, too, is kind of bland, with Dave Franco, your lead, coming off the blandest, while Justin Theroux just seems to be doing his best Will Arnett with only moderate success. Lots of fun names like Fred Armisen and Zach Woods are along for the ride, but even when recognizing that they’re confined just to voice work, they’re not given much to do. (Woods voicing a robot makes for some decent laughs, to be fair.)

There are some nice moments and laughs here and there, with a consistent ode to 1970s ninja cinema — complete with a faded and tattered look indicative of that era — but it’s not enough to make The Lego Ninjago Movie more than just an okay 90-minute time killer.

PICTURE & SOUND:

If you’re familiar with the Blu-ray releases of the previous Lego movies, then know that The Lego Ninjago Movie is cut from the same cloth. Bright colors and a constant dynamic presentation based on interesting environments, at the very least, make the movie interesting to to look at. The sound design, thankfully, is a little reined in here, but again, following the same path as before: movie-specific pop tunes are peppered throughout Mark Mothersbaugh’s musical score. Dialogue sounds very good as well.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Team Supreme: Building NINJAGO® – featurette
  • Rumble in the Bricks- featurette
  • Rebrick Contest Winners- featurette
  • Which Way to the Ocean – mini-movie
  • Zane’s Stand Up Promo – mini-movie
  • The Master: A LEGO® NINJAGO® Short – mini-movie
  • LEGO® NINJAGO® TV Series Sneak Peek
  • Oh, Hush! & Jeff Lewis Found My Place – Music Video
  • Everybody Have a Ninja Day – Music Video
  • Rocktagon – Music Video
  • Warlord Ballad – Music Video
  • Animation Bridge Test – Deleted Scene
  • Baby Fight– Deleted Scene
  • Dock Scene– Deleted Scene
  • Gimme Some Outtakes!
  • Commentary by Director Charlie Bean and Crew
  • 13 Promotional Videos


Distributor: Paramount

A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence. From filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream), mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer in this riveting psychological thriller about love, devotion and sacrifice.

(Spoilers follow as they pertain to my personal interpretation of the film’s themes.)

Darren Aronofsky has always made films exactly the way he wants. Sometimes this leads to universal praise, like Requiem for a Dream or The Wrestler, but sometimes it can lead to pretty polarizing results, like Black Swan or The Fountain. (I adore The Fountain, by the way.) In the wake of its release, mother! has clearly proven to be the most polarizing film of his career — pretty impressive for a filmmaker so far only seven films deep.

mother! has been dissected ad nauseum since it was released, much to the delight, I’m sure, of Aronofsky (the whole thing seems to be an allegory for Christianity, but I’m sure there are some hipsters out there dying to let me know I just didn’t “get it”), and it’s easy to see why: what starts off as an awkwardly made stage-play-ish encounter between awkward Jennifer Lawrence’s nameless character and all her awkward and uninvited nameless guests soon becomes a strange journey filled with mysticism and heavy handed symbolism. And though none of the characters are named, you’ll remember them from your Bible class: Adam and Eve; their sons, Cain and Abel; the holy family; the ancient Romans (and don’t forget the Jews!) — everybody’s here to pitch in and make mother! as insufferable as possible.

Good news! Everyone wins.

mother! is ideal for Aronofsky completists, or for those who want to turn up their noses at the more mainstream horror fare that’s proved popular over the past few years just for the sheer act of doing so. And to be fair, mother! is undeniably well made, in spite of It Girl Jennifer Lawrence’s borish and breathy performance. Artistically, Aronofsky bounces back from the traditional and rote Bible epic Noah and returns to the Black Swan era of his career where he wanted to make something more challenging and provocative, and with mother!, he certainly has. Once the third act begins and mother! descends into utter chaos, you can’t help but marvel at the sheer magnitude and execution of Aronofsky’s grand design, regardless if you either don’t “get it,” or you do “get it” but find his on-the-nose approach increasingly irritating. But beyond that, ironically, you’ll get the notion that Aronofsky is getting overly preachy with his audience even as he re-examines the history/myth of Jesus Christ and turns it into a living art installation brought to life by a handful of entirely unlikeable characters. (In case you were wondering, yes, J. Law plays the Virgin Mary, which we can assume because she not only gets preggers during the film, but it’s after bellowing at her husband that he “doesn’t fuck [her] anymore,” at which point he does. I guess after a period of sexual inactivity the hymen re-seals? That’s a new one on me, but from what I’ve heard, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.)

Here’s a fun idea for the holidays: watch mother! with your real mother and watch her cry and run from the room.

PICTURE & SOUND:

mother! shows off a lot of detail in its high-def presentation, which is good, because it’s evident from watching the supplements that a lot of work went into designing the isolated farmhouse where all of mother! takes place. The audio presentation doesn’t start off very showy (and Aronofsky’s usual go-to composer, Clint Mansell, sat this one out, leaving mother! without any music until the closing credits), but as the chaos in the house begins to mount, so does the audio track.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • mother! The Downward Spiral
  • The Makeup FX of mother!

Distributor: Lionsgate

Inspired by the true story, Stronger stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, a working-class Bostonian who was at the 2013 marathon when the bomb blast occurred and he tragically lost both of his legs. After regaining consciousness Jeff was able to help law enforcement identify one of the bombers, but his own battle had just begun. Jeff’s deeply personal journey tests a family’s bond and defines a community’s pride as he overcomes adversity to become the living embodiment of “Boston Strong.” Based on the New York Times best-selling memoir by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter, Stronger celebrates Bauman’s unrelenting courage against unimaginable odds.

The triumph of the human spirit has long been part of the film movement, but it’s also been around so long that it’s fallen into cliché territory — the term “Oscar Bait” derives directly from this. In the mid 2000s, when theaters were being inundated with biopics of famous musical personalities (Ray,  Walk the Line, etc.), even real events that happened to real people that these biopics fairly included were dismissed with a smirk as being the stuff of audience manipulation. Someone rationally minded recognizes that these filmmakers have every right to include real trials and tribulations that occurred in the lives of the bio-pic’s subjects, even if they threaten to tread the same ground of earlier films. However, it’s easy to become saturated with these tropes that, after a while — fairly or not — they do begin to feel like cliché. 

American filmmakers have always been quick to explore war and tragedy without offering the sometimes multi-decade buffer zone some audiences might prefer between the real-life event and the film inspired by it. Going to see The Hurt Locker while the Iraq War raged on in the real world, for example, seemed like kind of a redundant idea. And who had the burning desire to go see United 93 while 9/11 was still so fresh in everyone’s mind? But if you’re noticing the theme with these titles, it’s that politically or socially conscious driven films like these aren’t about entertainment value as they are  an education for audiences who are otherwise detached from the subject matter being explored. It’s a way for audiences to exorcise their guilt because they might not have personally experienced 9/11, or the Iraq War, or the Boston Marathon bombing, nor may not have known anyone close who did. Unconsciously, the audience wants to share in the burden of these terrible events — not necessarily in that “looking at the car accident” way, but at our core, the violence that happens to Americans happens to all Americans, and it’s our duty to carry that weight.

Stronger follows on the heels of Lionsgate’s other Boston bombing-centric film Patriot’s Day, which looked at the bigger picture of the aftermath of that bombing and the ensuing criminal investigation. Stronger, however, follows one man in particular, along with his friends and family, and their aftermath of that day. Again, it hits a lot of familiar beats that have come before, but Jeff Bauman absolutely has the right to tell his story as it happened, and director David Gordon Green absolutely has the right to help him tell that story. As you might imagine, portions of Stronger are incredibly hard to watch — not just the carnage and intensely bloody sequences that reenact the bombing, but Bauman’s subsequent hospital stay and the horror he endures in trying to regain his strength and form.

As Bauman, Gyllenhaal absolutely excels, giving perhaps one of the best performances of his career (his other being Nightcrawler, a total 180), and along with Tatiana Maslany as his girlfriend, Erin, make Stronger as powerful as it is. The two of them together are the anchor that help Stronger overcome its familiarity and result in some extremely affecting work. One of their earliest scenes involving hospital staff removing the bandages from Bauman’s recently amputated legs is enough for those tears to begin welling up. I know mine did.

As far as subject matter, Stronger is very different from Patriot’s Day, but no less powerful or well made. Each had a different goal and each reaches that goal with ease. Both are tough to watch and equally rewarding — each in different ways.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The nature of Stronger’s story doesn’t require a big flashy design, as it takes place in working class Boston, with most scenes set either in a hospital room or cramped apartment. The level of detail is very good, however, as revealed by close-ups on Gyllenhaal’s ragged face during the post-bombing sequences in the first act. Similarly, audio isn’t very showy, but dialogue, thick Boston accents notwithstanding, is prominent and clear.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • “Faith, Hope & Love: Becoming Stronger” Featurette


Also Available This Week:

Distributor: Arrow Video

In 1960, following on from the success of their collaboration on Some Like it Hot, director Billy Wilder (Ace in the Hole, Sunset Boulevard) reteamed with actor Jack Lemmon (The Odd Couple, Glengarry Glen Ross) for what many consider the pinnacle of their respective careers: The Apartment.

C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Lemmon) is a lowly Manhattan office drone with a lucrative sideline in renting out his apartment to adulterous company bosses and their mistresses. When Bud enters into a similar arrangement the firm’s personnel director, J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, Double Indemnity), his career prospects begin to look up… and up. But when he discovers that Sheldrake’s mistress is Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine, Irma la Douce), the girl of his dreams, he finds himself forced to choose between his career and the woman he loves…

Winner of five Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, The Apartment features a wealth of Hollywood’s finest talent – on both sides of the camera – at the top of their game. By turns cynical, heart-warming and hilarious, Wilder’s masterpiece now shines like never before in this all-new, 4K-restored edition from Arrow Films.

Special Features:

  • Limited Deluxe Edition Blu-ray [3000 copies]
  • Audio commentary with film producer and historian Bruce Block
  • New appreciation of the film and select scene commentary by film historian Philip Kemp
  • The Flawed Couple, a new video essay by filmmaker David Cairns on the collaborations between Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon
  • Billy Wilder ABC, an overview by David Cairns on the life and career of the filmmaker, covering his films, collaborators and more
  • New interview with actress Hope Holiday
  • Inside the Apartment, a half-hour “making-of” featurette from 2007 including interviews with Shirley MacLaine, executive producer Walter Mirisch, and others
  • Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon, an archive profile of the actor from 2007
  • Original screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond (BD-ROM content)
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Special collector’s packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Ignatius Fitzpatrick
  • Collector’s 150-page hardcover book featuring new writing by Neil Sinyard, Kat Ellinger, Travis Crawford and Heather Hyche, generously illustrated with rare stills and behind-the-scenes imagery

Distributor: Shout! Factory

After jaunts through northern England and Italy, Academy Award®-nominee* Steve Coogan (Philomena) and Rob Brydon (Cinderella) embark on another deliciously deadpan culinary road trip. This time around, the guys head to Spain to sample the best of the country’s gastronomic offerings in between rounds of their hilariously off-the-cuff banter. Over plates of pintxos and paella, the pair exchange barbs and their patented celebrity impressions, as well as more serious reflections on what it means to settle into middle age. As always, the locales are breathtaking, the cuisine to die for, and the humor delightfully devilish.

Special Features:

  • None

 


Distributor: Shout! Factory

A tribute to China’s rich past and vibrant present! Mysteries of China captures one of the great archaeological events of the modern age, telling the story of Ancient China, the First Emperor, and the literal foundation of the China we know today. Through the lens of this groundbreaking discovery, viewers explore an ancient time when a fierce warrior brought together a warring nation and how an accidental discovery changed everything we know about China’s past.


The discovery of the Terracotta Warriors and the Tomb of the First Emperor offers a unique time capsule into the past, revealing many things about this great country, which tells a larger story about the growth of China into a true superpower. From modern China to ancient China and back again, Mysteries of China is a visual adventure, using beautiful aerial photography and cutting-edge time lapse techniques to reveal great majesty, tragedy, splendor, and growth in a nation that continues to excel quickly into the future.

Special Features:

  • None

 


Distributor: WellGo USA

The Wolf Warrior is back, bigger and badder than ever, in this action-packed sequel to the 2015 blockbuster hit. With his career in tatters, China’s deadliest Special Forces operative has settled into a quiet life on the sea. But when he crosses paths with a sadistic band of mercenaries terrorizing innocent civilians, he must reaffirm his duty as a soldier and save the day once again. Fists (and bullets, tanks, missiles and much more) will fly in this adrenaline-fueled tour de force of bravura action filmmaking, all culminating into a climactic battle between the Wolf Warrior and the mercenary leader (Frank Grillo).

Special Features:

  • 4-Part Behind the Scenes Featurette
    • “Action Scenes”
    • “Filming in Africa”
    • “Director Wu Jing”
    • “Wu Gang”
  • Trailer

NEW PODCAST LOOP

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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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