The old idiom about March coming in like a lion isn’t just about weather this year. The month starts off with a ridiculously huge assortment of new Blu-ray releases, including a Marvel blockbuster, a few critical darling Oscar nominees, and a whole heap of SteelBooks.
New Releases (Blu-ray)
‘Thor: Ragnarok‘ – Marvel’s comic book blockbusters are often accused of suffering samey-ness from one picture to another, but the studio occasionally takes big risks too. Case in point: handing the keys to the ‘Thor’ franchise over to eccentric Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi (‘What We Do in the Shadows’) and giving him $180 million to turn it into a very silly space epic comedy. This could have gone disastrously (Waititi’s biggest prior production was the $2.5 million ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’), but the movie got great reviews and made big piles of cash at the box office. I’ve heard a little bit of grumbling among Marvel fans who didn’t care for the change in tone, but most people seem to have liked it. On disc, you can get it on Blu-ray or UHD, with SteelBooks at Best Buy or a Digibook (1080p only) at Target. Per Disney’s very frustrating policy, the 3D edition is only available overseas. (Zavvi also had a 3D SteelBook for a while, but it appears to have sold out.)
‘Lady Bird‘ – Indie darling Greta Gerwig previously wrote a couple movies for her boyfriend Noah Baumbach and co-directed the feature ‘Nights and Weekends’ in 2008. She made her solo directorial debut last year with a coming-of-age drama about a precocious teen (Saoirse Ronan, actually 23) suffering a strained relationship with her overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf). This sort of subject matter has of course been mined in countless other movies, but Gerwig’s treatment hit a particular chord among critics and viewers. The film was a breakout indie hit and nabbed Oscar nominations for Gerwig (both writing and directing), Ronan, and Metcalf, as well as Best Picture. I’m writing this in advance of the ceremony so I don’t know if it won any, but Metcalf seems like a strong contender in the Supporting Actress category.
‘Faces Places‘ – Pushing 90-years-old, legendary French filmmaker Agnès Varda (‘Cléo from 5 to 7’, ‘Vagabond’) received her first Oscar nomination this year for a playful documentary in which she and a young artist travel the rural French countryside, creating portraits of the people they meet. Regardless of whether she wins that or not (again, I’m writing this in advance), Varda was already given an honorary lifetime achievement award this year.
‘The Breadwinner‘ – Nominated for Best Animated Feature, the new project from ‘The Secret of Kells’ co-director Nora Twomey follows an 11-year-old girl as she struggles to support her family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 2001. That’s some weighty subject matter for a cartoon, but the story also segues into visually rich fantasy sequences. It still seems unlikely to beat ‘Coco’, though.
‘Wonder Wheel‘ – It looks like the world is just about done with Woody Allen. With the decades-old accusations of child molestation dredged up yet again in the wake of the MeToo movement, the prolific filmmaker couldn’t get anyone to see his latest annual effort. This one’s a period piece drama set in 1950s Coney Island, starring Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, and a bunch of other people who have since been shamed and badgered into severing ties with the director. Reviews for the movie were mostly negative, but it’s difficult to tell how much of that is a reflection of Allen’s late career artistic decline and how much is influenced by his personal toxicity in the current cultural climate.
‘The Man Who Invented Christmas‘ – Dan Stevens stars in a fanciful, feel-good bio-pic about Charles Dickens which posits that the author experienced real ghostly visitations that inspired him to write ‘A Christmas Carol’. Reviews were generally favorable. Phil called it “a bit of Christmassy fluff” that goes down smoothly.
‘Novitiate‘ – As if the Catholic Church didn’t have enough other dirty secrets to atone for, this Sundance favorite period piece set in a 1960s convent exposes some of the horrors that young girls were subjected to while training to become nuns prior to the Vatican II reforms. Melissa Leo plays the cruel Reverend Mother, which almost seems like typecasting.
‘Blue Planet II‘ – David Attenborough narrates another British nature documentary. This one looks at marine life and was shot in native 4k.
Best Buy carries exclusive SteelBooks for all three of this week’s Ultra HD offerings.
Of the day-and-date titles, only ‘Thor: Ragnarok‘ and ‘Blue Planet II‘ debut in UHD simultaneously with regular Blu-ray. Meanwhile, Sony upgrades Jim Henson’s ‘The Dark Crystal‘ to 4k.
Paramount is reissuing a ton of discs, some really old and some pretty recent, in new SteelBook packaging. Some of them (but not all) are quite cheap at around $10 a pop. Sadly, most of them have ugly artwork. I kind of like the ‘Barbarella’ case, but not enough to spend $17 on it when I already have that Blu-ray. Titles include: ‘13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi‘, ‘Arrival‘, ‘Aeon Flux‘, ‘Barbarella‘, ‘Death Wish‘ (1974), ‘Ghost in the Shell‘ (2017), ‘Jack Reacher‘, ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back‘, ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider‘, ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life‘, ‘Pain & Gain‘, ‘Shooter‘, ‘Terminator: Genisys‘, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street‘, ‘World War Z‘, and ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage‘.
In addition to the UHD, Sony offers a reissue of ‘The Dark Crystal‘ on standard Blu-ray as well.
Arrow Video remastered ‘Donnie Darko‘ for a Limited Edition release last year. If you didn’t buy that one, the same disc is available now in a streamlined Special Edition package. New from Arrow is a Limited Edition of the Dario Argento giallo ‘The Cat o’ Nine Tails‘. Expect a cheaper version to follow next year.
Kino follows up on last year’s remaster of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ with another Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western, 1971’s ‘A Fistful of Dynamite‘. The film was previously issued on Blu-ray by MGM under its alternate title, ‘Duck, You Sucker!’.
Before she inflicted the first ‘Twilight’ movie on the world, Catherine Hardwicke directed Heath Ledger in the skater drama ‘Lords of Dogtown‘, now on disc from Mill Creek.
Because it was released a little earlier in the UK, I already have the ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ 3D SteelBook in hand. I didn’t buy the Limited Edition of ‘Donnie Darko’ last year, so will prioritize the less expensive Special Edition. Beyond that, I’d like to see ‘Lady Bird’ but can probably wait for it to turn up on Netflix.
Where will your money go this week?