There’s a pleasant, old-fashioned feel to Alpha.
Welcome back to the only guide you need regarding what to buy on Blu-ray or DVD or catch on your favorite streaming services. Netflix is in the middle of a uniquely dry period, releasing almost nothing worthwhile since the last column, perhaps focusing more energy on shows like "Lady Dynamite" and tomorrow's return of "Bloodline." I'm sure they'll be back next column. Until then, we have two of my favorite movies of their respective decades in glorious new HD editions, masterpieces by Robert Altman and Michael Mann. You really need to buy both.
7 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
"The Player" (Criterion)
The new digital 4K restoration of "The Player" should be reason enough for most cinephiles to pick up the long-overdue HD upgrade of one of Robert Altman's best films; Criterion released it on Laserdisc long ago, and hasn't touched it until now. Most of the special features from that Laserdisc release have been imported, including an audio commentary by Altman, Michael Tolkin and Jean Lapine that brilliantly analyzes the movie, but it's the new interview featurette that's the real catch here, featuring great stories about the film's production from Tim Robbins, Tolkin, and more. Robbins offers a detailed history of the film, including how he really only became involved because Altman wanted him to be in "Short Cuts," which he was planning to make before "The Player," but the funding didn't come through. They shifted gears to the adaptation of Tolkin's novel, and Robbins conveys so many Altman anecdotes that fans of one of Roger's favorite directors really need to hear them all for themselves—including how the ending came about, details about the "planned improvisation" structure of Altman's work, and even why the sex scene was shot the way it was. We also learn that Chevy Chase almost played Griffin Mill, which is just amazing. As for the movie, it's still a masterful examination of paranoia and Hollywood politics.
New 4K digital restoration, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
Audio commentary from 1992 featuring director Robert Altman, writer Michael Tolkin, and cinematographer Jean Lepine
Interview with Altman from 1992
New interviews with Tolkin, actor Tim Robbins, associate producer David Levy, and production designer Stephen Altman
Cannes Film Festival press conference from 1992 with cast and crew
Robert Altman's Players, a short documentary about the shooting of the film's fund-raiser scene
Map to the Stars, a gallery dedicated to the cameo appearances in the film
Deleted scenes and outtakes
The film's opening shot, with alternate commentaries by Altman, Lepine, and Tolkin
Trailers and TV spots
Plus: An essay by suthor Sam Wasson
Most people digging into a Blu-ray column probably own Michael Mann's masterful thriller already, so the question is more whether or not Shout Factory's collector's edition warrants a double dip into the wallet. If you love "Manhunter" as much as I do, the answer is yes. The history of "Manhunter" is incredibly well-chronicled in a new interview with William Peterson, who offers details about how the film came to be (he originally met with Mann because he was making "Heat," which he wouldn't for another decade, of course) and incredible filmmaking tidbits. For example: in a scene when Petersen is on a hotel balcony on the phone, Mann wanted a lighted elevator in another hotel in the background to rise at a specific point. That's amazing. New interviews with Joan Allen, Tom Noonan and Dante Spinotti are also fantastic, and then there's the movie itself, which has never looked better, in both theatrical and director's cut editions.
Interviews with director of photography Dante Spinotti and actors William Petersen, Tom Noonan and Joan Allen
The Music Of "Manhunter": Including interviews with composer Michel Rubini, Barry Andrews (Shriekback), Gary Putnam (The Prime Movers), Rick Shaffer (The Reds) and Gene Stashuk (Red 7)
Audio Commentary by writer/director Michael Mann
Director's Cut (In standard definition)
The "Manhunter" Look: A conversation with cinematographer Dante Spinotti
Inside "Manhunter" with stars William Petersen, Joan Allen, Brian Cox and Tom Noonan
Some people have referred to the theatrical release of "The Witch" as a bomb or a failure because the audience response didn't match the critical raves. That's absolutely hilarious. A period piece with no stars and a low-budget festival hit has made over $36 million worldwide—that's absolutely incredible. If not for the current horror wave, "The Witch" could have easily gone VOD, but A24 has embraced horror auteurs after the success of films like "The Babadook" and "It Follows," and got "The Witch" to a MUCH wider audience than anyone could have ever expected. And I still think the movie holds up. Give it a second shot on Blu-ray and admire Eggers' attention to detail, especially some of the best sound design of the year.
Audio Commentary with Director Robert Eggers
"The Witch": A Primal Folklore
Salem Panel Q&A
"The Naked Island" (Criterion)
A 1960 Japanese film with no dialogue can be a tough sell even for the most hardened cinephiles, and I have to admit to admiring "The Naked Island" more than purely enjoying it. It's certainly a fascinating film, and one that influenced numerous ones to come out of the country over the decades to come. The story of a small family on an island in the Seto Inland Sea is a perfect example of the visual power of cinema to transport us somewhere we would never otherwise be. The only occupants of this tiny island, the family members, have to carry water from a neighboring island back to theirs for farming. And there's no room in this existence for tragedy. Criterion's edition is an accomplished one, particularly with an appreciation of the film by Benicio Del Toro.
New, high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Video introduction by director Kaneto Shindo, recorded for a 2011 retrospective of his work
Audio commentary recorded in 2000, featuring Shindo and composer Hikaru Hayashi
New appreciation of the film by actor Benicio Del Toro
New interview with film scholar Akira Mizuta Lippit
Plus: An essay by film scholar Haden Guest
"Independence Day: 20th Anniversay Ultimate Collector's Edition"
Studios often find ways to repackage their greatest hits around the anniversary of their theatrical release, or when a sequel is nigh. With "Independence Day," Fox got both! Twenty years after the release of the wildly successful sci-fi film (a movie that's also way more influential than it often gets credit for being), "Independence Day: Resurgence" is finally being released, and Fox is hoping for a little of that nostalgia that made "Jurassic World" a massive success. To keep the buzz building, they've released a massive collector's edition that includes a physical collectible of an alien ship to put on your shelf and impress friends. Sadly, the disc itself doesn't actually fit in the replica, even though the base is circular enough to make you think it would. Trust me. I checked more than once.
ID4 Datastream Trivia Track
Commentary by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin
Commentary by Oscar-winning Special Effects Supervisors
All-new 30-Minute Documentary - Independence Day: A Legacy Surging Forward
ID4 Invasion Mockumentary
The Making of ID4
Monitor Earth Broadcasts
The horror anthology film got a kick in the pants from the success of "V/H/S," which itself spawned two sequels and inspired "The ABCs of Death." One of the best films in this subgenre is the clever, unpredictable "Southbound," a series of five short stories tied together by their desolate location. We've all driven those long stretches of highway late at night, places where it feels like civilization and humanity are hundreds of miles away and something dangerous could be lurking in the dark. That's really the entire creative force behind "Southbound," in which four out of the five short films undeniably work. That's an amazing batting average. Sadly, this one is on DVD only, but still worth renting.
Deleted Scenes Reel
We ignored a lot of the major Hollywood releases of late because this column is designed as a "highlights" piece and "Dirty Grandpa" and "How to Be Single" are not highlights of anyone's career. The best of the recent crop of early '16 films being released on Blu-ray is this Craig Gillespie/Disney film, an undeniably flawed crowdpleaser that still gets the job done on a Saturday night. Looking for something more escapist than "The Naked Island" or "Manhunter"? We can't blame you, and this is the best way to go until we cover "Anomalisa" and "Hail, Caesar!" in two weeks.
Against All Odds: The Bernie Webber Story: Visit the quaint and close-knit town of Chatham, and experience the events surrounding the most heroic Coast Guard rescue ever through the eyes of the people who witnessed them. Also features the filmmakers, the co-authors of "The Finest Hours" book, and Bernie Webber's daughter.
Brotherhood: Cast members reflect on the bonds they forged during the shoot.
The Finest Inspiration: The U.S. Coast Guard: Meet the people who put their lives on the line for others.
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