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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: March 23, 2017

10 NEW TO NETFLIX

"Being 17"
"Blow"
"Coraline"
"Evolution"
"Fire at Sea"
"Howards End"
"Million Dollar Baby"
"Pete's Dragon"
"Train to Busan"
"The Waterboy"

11 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD

"Being There" (Criterion)

So many films have tried and failed to replicate the satirical whimsy of Hal Ashby's best film that young viewers may not fully appreciate how eye-opening the film was when it was first released. Another thing that has gone under-appreciated over the years as so many young people associate him primarily with "The Pink Panther" (and maybe "Dr. Strangelove") is the work of Peter Sellers here. In the best performance of his career, Sellers plays Chance the gardener, a kind man who becomes untethered really when his guardian passes away. He's forced out into the world, taken under the wing of a tycoon played by Oscar-winning Melvyn Douglas and eventually considered a philosophical genius. This is a perfect film for its era, a movie that predicts the personality-obsessed era of the '80s, but it also feels timely to today, an era in which celebrity can often be mistaken for genius.

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Special Features
New, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with members of the production team
Excerpts from a 1980 American Film Institute seminar with director Hal Ashby
Author Jerzy Kosinski in a 1979 appearance on "The Dick Cavett Show"
Appearances from 1980 by actor Peter Sellers on NBC’s "Today" and on "The Don Lane Show"
Promo reel featuring Sellers and Ashby
Trailer and TV spots
Deleted scene, outtakes, and alternate ending
PLUS: An essay by critic Mark Harris

"Canoa: A Shameful Memory" (Criterion)

As remarkable as their now-800-plus library is, it's very rare that the Criterion collection inducts a film that I haven't heard of, but such was the case with this true story from Mexican director Felipe Cazals. With a unique quasi-documentary style that seems awfully ahead of its time for 1976, Cazals relays the horrific incident of the title village, where a corrupt priest convinced his villagers that travelers to their village from a nearby university were communist revolutionaries, and had them killed. As we have seen more and more minds manipulated by hate speech, it's hard not to apply the lessons of "Canoa" to 2017. It's also important that Criterion continues not only to dig a little deeper, but to do so from non-European cultures. I'm hopeful that this is the start of a greater presence by Mexican cinema in the catalog as a whole.

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Special Features
New, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by director Felipe Cazals, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New introduction by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
New conversation between filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón and Cazals
Trailer
New English subtitle translation
PLUS: An essay by critic Fernanda Solórzano

"Elle"

One of the film events of 2017 is going to be the Isabelle Huppert-attended screening of Paul Verhoeven's film at Ebertfest next month. It's sure to provoke an interesting Q&A. If you're going (and you should), then wait and experience this film with 1,400 other people for the first time, but if you want to be prepared or can't make it to Champaign, the Blu-ray is now available. Verhoeven's best film in almost two decades finds the provocateur enlivened by one of his best collaborators of all time in Huppert. As much as this is Huppert's film, and she should have won the Oscar, it feels like Verhoeven's contributions have been undervalued. He directs Huppert to the best performance of his career by allowing her to be fearless, capturing the arc of a woman unafraid of a scary world. This is a daring, challenging film that's not for everyone, but it might be more for you thank you think.

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Special Features
Celebrating an Icon: AFI's Tribute to Isabelle Huppert
A Tale of Empowerment: The Making of "Elle"

"Fences"

It took an award-winning play to get the great Viola Davis her first Oscar, and now you can see why she won on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming services. You'll likely be nodding your head in agreement during her very first scene. It's that towering of a performance, the kind of work that announces itself as an award winner instantly, and got Davis 3/4s of the way to an EGOT. For the record, she won the Tony for the same role. The only argument to be made is that she should have won Best Actress, although then "Fences" might have been the Best Picture That Never Was instead of "La La Land." As a film, "Fences" is an actor's showcase for Denzel Washington and Davis, and it's worth seeing just for that. I don't think all of the supporters match the leads and there's something lost in the translation from stage to film here, but you simply must see it for acting talent on display. Decades from now, people will still be writing about Washington and Davis, and this is one of the films they'll cite.

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Special Features
Expanding the Audience: From Stage to Screen
The Company of Fences
Building Fences: Denzel Washington
Playing the Part: Rose Mazon
August Wilson's Hill District

"Insecure: Season One"

One of the best new shows of 2016 makes it home in a first-season set from HBO, still the leaders in TV on Blu-ray. HBO had an incredible 2016, breaking new ground with the mini-series "The Night of," drama "Westworld," and this fantastic comedy from YouTube sensation and author Issa Rae. This is one of the most honest and hilarious portrayals of what it means to be a woman and a person of color in Los Angeles in the '10s. It is the announcement of a major new talent, and one who I suspect will be earning our attention for years to come. As Lena Dunham exits stage left with HBO's most important recent comedy, Issa Rae enters stage right with its even-better replacement.

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Special Features
Conjugal Visits: Get An Extended Look at the "Insecure" Characters Favorite Reality Show
Plus Two Behind-The-Scenes Featurettes
Insecure: In The Room and On The Room and On the "Insecure" Set with Issa Rae

"Miss Sloane"

Jessica Chastain gives a searing performance in John Madden's drama about a lobbyist who leaves her pro-NRA company behind to help another firm push forward a gun control bill. The supporting cast here, especially Mark Strong and Michael Stuhlbarg, is fantastic, and the dialogue is razor-sharp. The fact is that this film would have played differently in the era before "House of Cards" and Trump's America redefined how we look at Capitol Hill. It's not to say there's no power to it now, but that it likely would have made bigger waves in 2005. Now, it almost feels like a Showtime series that could have been, another dissection of the rotten system of politics.

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Special Features
Lobbying: Winning by Any Means

"Multiple Maniacs" (Criterion)

Do you think people like John Waters and his crew of Dreamlanders had ANY idea that their films would be as appreciated in 2017 when they made them almost a half-century ago? It's yet another case of the counter-culture becoming the culture in the same way that great musicians or artists who buck the norm can go from reviled to revered with the passage of time. I'm pretty sure Waters never expected to find his second feature about the Cavalcade of Perversion in a collection with "The Seventh Seal" when he was shooting it for no money in the streets of Baltimore. Again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but Criterion has been accused, especially lately, of being a little narrow-minded in their selections. In just the last two weeks, they've released a high-profile satire, a Mexican docudrama, and a film that was banned in most cities when it was released. Let's hope they keep up the diversity.

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Special Features
New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director John Waters, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New audio commentary featuring Waters
New interviews with cast and crew members Pat Moran, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe, George Figgs, and Vincent Peranio
New video essay by scholar Gary Needham
Trailer
PLUS: An essay by critic Linda Yablonsky

"Robocop 2"
"Robocop 3"

Probably timed a bit to the 20th anniversary of the Paul Verhoeven classic, Shout Factory pulls the two sequels to "Robocop" from the vault and dresses them up with new transfers and special features. They look great and I'm all for fans being able to complete their collection, but these films were bad then and they're bad now, especially the horrendous third one, a solid choice on any list of the worst sequels ever made. It's a movie that just doesn't get what the first "Robocop" was even about, much less continue its story effectively. At least the second one has some echoes of the first. As is so often the case, Shout Factory does a great job with these Blu-rays, even if the films arguably don't deserve it.

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"Robocop 2" Special Features
New 2k Scan of The Interpositive
New Audio Commentary with Author/CG Supervisor Paul M. Sammon.
"Corporate Wars: The Making of RoboCop 2"
"Machine Parts: The FX of RoboCop 2"
"Robo-Fabricator"
"OCP Declassified
Theatrical Trailer
Teaser Trailer
TV Spot
Still Gallery

"Sing"

What if someone bought the rights to the most popular songs done at karaoke bars around the country and decided to turn them into a movie? The result would be "Sing," a perfectly enjoyable film that's also remarkably both shallow and overcrowded. There's no justifiable reason for this movie to be nearly two hours long other than to cram in as many songs and characters as possible. While the film ultimately loses interest for me, I try to include at least one family film in every column, and it should be noted that my three sons adore this movie. They sing the songs, they dance when they watch it, and they get into the minimal story. So, it works for the audience it's designed to work for. You just may want to have a book or smartphone handy while they're watching it.

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Special Features
3 New Mini-Movies
"Don't You Worry "bout a Thing" Music Video Starring Tori Kelly
The Best of Gunter
Character Profiles

"Ghost in the Shell"

With the Scarlett Johansson-led remake coming next week, it only makes sense to revisit the anime classic that spawned the new film. Given it's been over two decades since this film was released, it dawns on me that there may be some who don't even know the ScarJo flick is a long-delayed remake. Do yourself a favor and check out the original first. It's a still-timely and beautifully-animated film that feels like it influenced the Wachowskis' "The Matrix" just four years later, and, well, that influenced everything. So, while you may not have seen "Ghost in the Shell," you've almost certainly seen films inspired by it. If you are a fan already, this latest release is a beauty, packaged in a gorgeously designed "steel" case that includes artwork by Mondo.

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