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The Girl Without Hands

What he does best is create a palpable sense of dread without pushing, without tilting into melodrama.

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Munna Michael

Noisy, silly, and sometimes rather fun. I just wish it weren't such a hot mess.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Home Entertainment Consumer Guide: April 6, 2017

10 NEW TO NETFLIX

"Across the Universe"
"Escape From New York"
"Five Nights in Maine"
"Gremlins"
"The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou"
"The Manchurian Candidate"
"A Nightmare on Elm Street"
"Schindler's List"
"Tower"
"Whale Rider"

9 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD

"20th Century Women"

The battle for the biggest Oscar snub of 2017 often came down to Amy Adams in "Arrival" vs. Annette Bening in this semi-biographical dramedy from writer/director Mike Mills. Bening is near the top of the overdue list, but she couldn't even score a nod in a category that many people thought she would win after the film premiered at NYFF. Mills did get a screenplay nod, and I hope that leads people to rent this modest memory film, a piece about a boy formed by the women he knew. It's really a love letter to Mills' youth, and Bening doesn't give the only great performance in it as Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup are also fantastic. The film doesn't quite come together for me as much as those who love it but it works more than well enough that you should check it out in case you fall for it too. (And read Sheila O'Malley's review linked above if you can. It's a beauty.)

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Special Features
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Mike Mills
Making 20th Century Women
20th Century Cast

"Blow-Up" (Criterion)

Michelangelo Antonioni's English-language breakthrough is one of those films that defies its release date for me. I'm always stunned to realize it was released in 1966. While it definitely comments on some of the fashions and superficiality of the day, it's always felt more like the groundbreaking films of the '70s. I know I say this a lot in this column when it comes to Criterion but this is another one of those films that you have at least spiritually seen even if you never literally saw it because it influenced SO many works that came after it. It's a passionate, creative mystery about a photographer who unknowingly captures a death on film, but it becomes a commentary on not just its era but the very art of filmmaking. If you love Brian De Palma's "Blow Out" (and you really should), see the movie that directly inspired it, now in a gorgeous release with a new transfer and audio mix.

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Special Features
New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New pieces about director Michelangelo Antonioni’s artistic approach, featuring photography curators Walter Moser and Philippe Garner and art historian David Alan Mellor
Blow Up of “Blow Up,” a 2016 documentary on the making of the film
Conversation from 2016 between Garner and actor Vanessa Redgrave
Archival interviews with Antonioni and actors David Hemmings and Jane Birkin
Trailers
PLUS: A book featuring an essay by film scholar David Forgacs, an updated 1966 account of the film’s shooting by Stig Björkman, the questionnaires the director distributed to photographers and painters while developing the film, and the 1959 Julio Cortázar short story on which the film is loosely based

"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"

They're going to be making Harry Potter movies and books and new tie-ins long after we're dead and gone (ditto "Star Wars"). The actual story of The Boy Who Lived may be over, but here we are at the beginning of another multi-film series set in the world of wizarding. This time around its a prequel about Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a young man who comes to a New York divided over the role of magic in a non-magic society. Of course, it's all just an excuse for a bunch of CGI creatures, including a black cloud threatening to take over the city. Honestly, while a lot of this looks good, the over-reliance on CGI is stifling in the extreme, and Redmayne is not an engaging lead. I believe that, like Potter, the series could improve, but I found this one mostly hollow and forgettable.

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Special Features
Over an Hour of Expansive, Multipart Features - Meet the Fantastic Characters and Beasts and Learn Their Stories, Then Immerse Yourself In MACUSA, Newt's case and more of the Film's Locations.
Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins!
Deleted Scenes

"A Monster Calls"

Speaking of effects-heavy disappointments, I was not on board with J.A. Bayona's emotional fairy tale as much as many of my colleagues, but I wanted to include it here because I know I'm in the minority. While the story of a boy who encounters a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who basically teaches him to handle the impending death of his mother is undeniably moving, I feel the film falls short of its potential by so often telling people what to feel instead of just letting them feel it. Great fables, like "Pan's Labyrinth," allow for interpretation. The monster of this film's title literally tells us the message of each story on completion. Having said that, I do love how Bayona is willing to confront and scare his younger viewers, not talking down to them in terms of visual imagery or scary themes. And it looks great in HD.

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Special Features
Deleted Scenes
The Making of "A Monster Calls" 
Making of the Tales

"Paterson"

On my top ten last year, I placed only two films ("Manchester by the Sea" and "Moonlight") higher than Jim Jarmusch's latest, which I also consider the great director's best to date. And yet I think I'll probably end up watching it more than any other 2016 work. It reminds me of another of my favorite films of the '10s, the Coen's incredible "Inside Llewyn Davis" in the way it builds emotional power through a series of episodic encounters, although "Paterson" is notably less cynical. In fact, Jarmusch's film is almost wide-eyed and romantic in the way it captures the poetry of the world around us. Years from now, people will be stunned it didn't get more attention on its initial release. It's that good.

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Special Features
Nothing ... boo!

"Patriots Day"

Another slight diversion from the standards of this column, which is to only include films that I like and would recommend you rent or buy on Blu-ray. I would not recommend either option for Peter Berg's latest exploitation drama, but it has enough fans that may want to know it's out, want to buy it, or know the special features. So, consider this informative more than anything else. As for my opinion of the film itself, I can't stand some of the manipulative techniques used by Berg, including the over-cooked score, the bizarre amount of time spent with the bombers that somehow still never once seeks to humanize them, and, most of all, the entire fabrication of Mark Wahlberg's character, who becomes a Forrest Gump of the Boston Bombing, always where the action is happening. There are a couple sequences that really work, like the chaos after the bombing and the Watertown shoot-out, but I just wish they were in a better movie.

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Special Features
Boston Strong: 3 True Stories of Courage
Researching the Day
The Boston Bond: Recounting the Tale
The Real Patriots: The Local Heroes Stories
The Cast Remembers
Actors Meet Reel-Life Counterparts: A 2 Part Series

"Planet Earth II"

I can still remember the first time I saw the first "Planet Earth," which came early enough in the era of HD TVs to really feel revolutionary and breakthrough. Ten years later, the groundbreaking series is back with another six episodes of marvelous, mesmerizing television. These programs remind one that nature still produces more breathtaking imagery than any Hollywood studio could possibly dream up. They are fascinating programs that work for all ages, teaching young viewers about the beauty of nature and reminding old ones of how much they may have forgotten in an increasingly tech-driven world. Each episode includes a ten-minute segment about their production, which is equally fascinating, offering insight into how these shots were captured. People almost died getting on and off an island dominated by thousands of penguins. The least you could do is sit on your couch and watch it.

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Special Features
Planet Earth Diaries

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

I'm old enough to remember a time when there were only three "Star Wars" films and it honestly felt like we wouldn't get any more. I used to claim that the prequels would never happen because Lucas would never commit to them. Of course, it's now a "Star Wars" world, we just live in it. Not only are we in the middle of a new series of films but spin-offs have begun production, including an origin story for Han Solo, and this "bridge" film between the prequels and original Holy Trilogy. What's perhaps most remarkable about the new iteration of "Star Wars" is their level of quality. Most recognize that "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens" was fantastic and eagerly anticipate Rian Johnson's "The Last Jedi." I never thought I'd say it, but the resurgence of "Star Wars" is actually a good thing, especially if it leads to rich, detailed storytelling like this very strong genre entry. It's also a great Blu-ray release, perfectly transferred for the technology. Make sure your HD TV is calibrated right and your sound system is up as loud as your neighbors will allow.

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Special Features
The Stories - An Intimate collection of stories that take you behind the scenes with filmmakers and cast to reveal how the film came to life.
- A Rogue Idea
- Jyn: The Rebel
- Cassian: The Spy
- K-2So: The Droid
- Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of The Whills
- Bedhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary
- The Enpire
- Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One
- The Princess & The Govenor
- Epilogue: The Story Continues

"Silence"

How incredible is it that the two best films in this column and two of the best films of 2016 starred Adam Driver? He takes a supporting role here to Andrew Garfield, who does the best work of his career as a Jesuit Priest sent to find a lost colleague in Japan. To me, this feels like Martin Scorsese's most personal film in the way it tells the story of a man who tries to hold on to faith in a Godless world, a place in which apostasy is constantly rewarded and loyalty to God is condemned. Scorsese took a quarter-century to make this masterpiece, and the story became how few people saw it and how little it impacted awards season. Shame on those who allowed that to overshadow the actual quality of this work, a beautiful, mesmerizing drama that will long outlast any box office reports or critics groups citations.

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Special Features
Martin Scorsese's Journey Into Silence


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