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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 Guide: July 25, 2019

3 NEW TO NETFLIX

"Inglourious Basterds"
"The Princess and the Frog"
"Short Term 12"

12 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD

"1984" (Criterion)

Criterion doesn't choose their release dates by throwing darts at a board. It's a very careful process, designed as a business, of course, but also clearly embedded with social commentary and concerns about the state of the country. That being said, it is not coincidental that a time in our history concerning women's rights, race relations and an increasingly dictatorial government sees Criterion releasing Alan Pakula's "Klute," Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" and Michael Radford's "1984" in the same month. Argue somewhere else about the state of the union as Robert Mueller testifies, but you can't deny that the Criterion Collection has been shaped by the election of 2016. As for "1984," I'm mixed on it overall. I'm not sure Radford was the right choice or that the source material can really be adapted well by anyone. It's so intentionally bleak and repetitive, two elements that don't translate well to cinema. However, John Hurt makes this worth a look. He's phenomenal in one of the most underrated performances of his wonderful career.
 
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Special Features
New 4K digital restoration, supervised by cinematographer Roger Deakins, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Two scores: one by Eurythmics and one by composer Dominic Muldowney
New interviews with director Michael Radford and Deakins
New interview with David Ryan, author of George Orwell on Screen
Behind-the-scenes footage
Trailer
PLUS: An essay by writer and performer A. L. Kennedy

"Alita: Battle Angel"

The first third of "Alita" is Robert Rodriguez's best film in years. His set-up for the title character and his futuristic setting is rich in detail and surprisingly in character too. As it gets deeper into its story and leans too heavily into its least interesting character in Alita's love interest, it loses its way. Still, there's more to like here than you may have been led to believe. How many big-budget, sci-fi, CGI-fests include three Oscar winners? And all three - Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali - understand exactly what's expected of them here, never really stealing focus from the title character. That the film doesn't live up to its first act was disappointing, but it's still definitely worth a look, and the kind of ambitious, strange, visually strong piece of work that I wouldn't blame anyone for loving.  

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Special Features
Alita's World
From Manga to Screen
Evolution of Alita 
Motorball 
James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez and cast Q&A moderated by Jon Landau
Robert Rodriguez's 10 Minute Cooking School: Chocolate 
2005 Art Compilation (2019) 
Scene Deconstruction 

"Ash is Purest White"

Jia Zhangke's latest film, which premiered at Cannes in 2018, has been called a crime epic and a romantic drama. Neither are really true, and I think both set me up for a different experience. This is a character piece that uses that character, played brilliantly by Jia's wife Zhao Tao, to reflect the changing nation of China over the first two decades of this millennium. Zhao Tao plays the girlfriend of a minor crime figure who pulls a gun to save him from what looks like a lethal beating. Firing a weapon means jail time, and she returns to her old life to find it (and him) changed. Jia Zhangke has played with some of these themes before in films like "Still Life," "A Touch of Sin," and "Mountains May Depart," and I think all of those are stronger films. Having said that, he's an increasingly impressive filmmaker in terms of composition and confidence. Every shot here feels deliberately chosen to push the story in a certain direction or reflect the predicament of his lead, and the state of his homeland. It's a must-see, even if I'm on the lower scale of the critical praise it's received. 

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Special Features
Directors Dialogue with Jia Zhangke at NYFF56

"Do the Right Thing" (Criterion)

When I was lucky enough to see Spike Lee's masterpiece at Ebertfest in 2014, I couldn't get over how timelessly perfect this film remained, suggesting to my wife that there hadn't been as powerful a film released since this came out in 1989. It might still be true, five years later. There are very few films that have lost none of their power three decades after their release, but Lee's is one of them. It's a deeply personal movie that is also incredibly resonant to people who have never been to that hot Brooklyn street or in that racially-charged environment. It is quite simply one of the best films of all time, and it's wonderful that Criterion has chosen to upgrade it and re-release it (they handled the DVD years ago, hence the dated special features) after it being off the market for too long. It's a movie I plan to watch every few years. You should too.

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Special Features
New 4K digital restoration, approved by cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Audio commentary from 1995 featuring director Spike Lee, Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas, and actor Joie Lee
Introductions by Lee
Making “Do the Right Thing,” a documentary from 1989 by St. Clair Bourne, in a new 2K digital transfer
New interviews with costume designer Ruth E. Carter, New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., writer Nelson George, and filmmaker Darnell Martin
Three programs from 2000 and 2009, featuring Lee and cast and crew members Barry Alexander Brown, Chuck D, Dickerson, Richard Edson, Frankie Faison, Jon Kilik, Kevin Ladson, Steve Park, Rosie Perez, Luis Ramos, Monty Ross, John Savage, Roger Guenveur Smith, and John Turturro
Music video for Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” directed by Lee, with remarks from rapper Chuck D
Cannes Film Festival press conference from 1989 featuring Lee along with actors Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Edson, and Joie Lee
Behind-the-scenes footage
Deleted and extended scenes
Original storyboards, trailer, and TV spots
PLUS: An essay by critic Vinson Cunningham and (on the Blu-ray) extensive excerpts from the journal Lee kept during the preparation for and production of the film

"Fast Color"

Much has been made about the under-performance of Julia Hart's excellent superhero drama, which was barely released in theaters after a year in limbo following its showings at South by Southwest and the Chicago Critics Film Festival. This is a film that WILL find its audience. The sad thing is that the multiplexes don't really have space for it with all the Disney franchises, and it's not the kind of thing to play weeks in the arthouse. But it will play at home, and it will live on recommendations. Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as a woman with, well, powers. And that's really all you need to know. I was lucky enough to be at the world premiere in Austin, when I knew almost nothing about what to expect, and that's the best way to appreciate this. Just know that this is not your typical superhero movie. It is about empowerment, and fixing that which is broken in our lives. It's one of 2019's best films so far.

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Special Features
Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Julia Hart and Writer-Producer Jordan Horowitz
"A Mother's Power: Making Fast Color" Featurette

"Klute" (Criterion)

Jane Fonda gives her best performance, one that won her an Oscar, in this Alan J. Pakula thriller about a detective (Donald Sutherland) investigating a disappearance that's somehow connected to a sex worker, played by Fonda. The first half of this movie, shot by "Prince of Darkness" Gordon Willis, is a masterpiece. Fonda really understands this character and what the movie is saying about gender relations, empowerment, and sex work. As it gets deeper into the thriller element in the back half, it loses its way. Even Pakula seems nowhere near as interested in the actual plot as he does the scenes in which Fonda is allowed to build this fascinating character. She discusses that craft in an excellent interview with Illeana Douglas on the new Criterion edition. 

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Special Features
New, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by camera operator Michael Chapman, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New interview with actor Jane Fonda, conducted by actor Illeana Douglas
New program about Klute and director Alan J. Pakula by filmmaker Matthew Miele, featuring interviews with film scholar Annette Insdorf, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, and actor Charles Cioffi, along with archival interviews with Pakula
The Look of “Klute,” a new interview with writer Amy Fine Collins
Archival interviews with Pakula and Fonda
“Klute” in New York, a short documentary made during the shooting of the film
PLUS: An essay by critic Mark Harris and excerpts from a 1972 interview with Pakula

"Missing Link"

Minor LAIKA is still major filmmaking. Make no mistake - this is minor for the company that made the far-superior "Coraline," "Paranorman," and "Kubo and the Two Strings," but it's still worth your time. In fact, LAIKA has yet to make anything that isn't. The story of an explorer who finds a Yeti and tries to take him to Shangri-La to find more of his kind is at its best, believe it or not, when it's at its most old-fashioned. There's a Mel Brooks-esque thread of screwball comedy that really works. (A recurring bit about Link being literal made me laugh every time.) And it looks absolutely gorgeous. As one of the special features points out, LAIKA is about craft, and that's something they prove again with every single film. 

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Special Features
Audio Commentary by Chris Butler
Creating Mr. Link
Bringing the Final Battle on the Ice Bridge to Life
Animation Inspiration w/optional Commentary by Chris Butler
VFX Breakdown Reel – Realizing the Potential of Stop Motion
Oh What a Mystery: Pulling the Camera Back on Missing Link's Magic
Making Faces
Inside the Magic of Laika
Gallery x 24 Images

"Moon"

When Sam Rockwell won his Oscar for the controversial "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri," it started up an overdue narrative in the awards season chatter. Everyone loves Rockwell (at least they did before the divisiveness surrounding that movie) and it was fun to see the variety of performances mentioned from the playfulness of "The Way Way Back" to the melodrama of "Snow Angels." One performance that kept recurring was his turn in "Moon," a beloved piece of science fiction directed by the talented Duncan Jones. "Moon" has now been granted the 4K upgrade treatment, which will likely only keep its growing cult of fans expanding. It's also more than your typical upgrade - which is usually just an HD polish - as this release includes new deleted scenes and a new conversation with Jones. Even if you don't have a 4K player yet, this is the edition of "Moon" to pick up. You'll want it in your collection when you get one. 

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Special Features
4K REMASTERED WITH HDR, AND NEWLY REMIXED WITH DOLBY ATMOS AUDIO, both approved by Writer/Director Duncan Jones.
Original 5.1 theatrical mix
All-NEW Retrospective Conversation with Duncan Jones and Journalist Joe Utichi
NEW Never-Before-Seen Deleted Scenes
NEW Fan Art Poster Gallery
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Duncan Jones and Producer Stuart Fenegan
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Duncan Jones, Director of Photography Gary Shaw, Concept Designer Gavin Rothery, and Production Designer Tony Noble
Whistle Short Film by Duncan Jones
The Making of Moon
Creating the Visual Effects
Science Center Q&A with Director Duncan Jones
Filmmaker's Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival
Theatrical Trailer

"Shazam"

Zachary Levi stars in this DC hit from earlier in the year that's sort of a riff on "Big" filtered through the superhero lens. A kid is granted Superman-esque powers but he retains his teenage personality. The result allows for Levi to really toy with the idea - I love the way he exaggerates his "hero walk" as a teenage boy would going into a fight - and for a film that's surprisingly loose and fun. My problem with so many of the modern superhero movies is how often they feel rigidly made by a machine. This one has a shaggy dog quality that's more reminiscent of the movies of the '80s and '90s than the CGI monstrosities we see often nowadays. It's one of the few superhero movies in recent memory that makes me eager to see what happens next in this franchise, and one that I think will stand up better than much of its by-the-numbers competition.

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Special Features
Shazam Exclusive Motion Comic
The Magical World of Shazam
Super Fun Zac
Carnival Scene Study, Shazamily Values
Shazamily Values
Who is Shazam?
Deleted Scenes
Gag Reel

"Transit

Christian Petzold's drama is still my choice for the best film of 2019 so far (although the latest from Jordan Peele and Quentin Tarantino are close). It's a master class in cinematic construction - every beat carefully considered but not to such an extent that it smothers character or theme. Watching it again, I can't get over how confidently made it is and yet never to a degree that we lose the emotional thread. That's what makes this movie so remarkable. Craftsmanship is underrated in general, but an over-emphasis on it often leads to thin characters or precious plotting. This world is both lived-in and cinematically unforgettable. Just see this movie. It's an essential one. All of Petzold's films are. 

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Special Features
Making of Transit Interview featurette with Franz Rogowski·
Interview with director Christian Petzold·
Franz Rogowski: Shooting Star 
Filmmaker Q&A from the Film Society of Lincoln Center·
Press conference with the cast and crew from the Berlin film premiere·
In Transit: Thrown Into the World a conversation with Christian Petzold and Barbara Auer·
Collector's Booklet featuring interviews and an essay by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

"Universal Horror Collection"

Scream Factory has released two small box sets of four relatively unheralded films from the early years of Universal. These are not the classic Universal Monster films like "Dracula" or "The Mummy," which have been released multiple times on home media, but films you probably haven't heard of like the marvelous 1933 pre-code, grisly thriller "Murders in the Zoo," about a millionaire zoo owner who feeds his enemies to his animals. The eight films in total also include the occasional commentary and still gallery. It's a nice little series that Shout Factory has started here, especially given how deep they're diving into the catalog. Classic film fans should take notice. The movies included are 1934's "The Black Cat," 1935's "The Raven," 1936's "The Invisible Ray," and 1940's "Black Friday" in the first volume; 1933's "Murders in the Zoo," 1942's "The Mad Doctor of Market Street," 1942's "The Strange Case of Doctor Rx," and 1943's "The Mad Ghoul" in volume two. 

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Special Features
Audio Commentaries
Theatrical Trailers
Still Galleries

"Weird Science"

I generally recoil at the "they couldn't make that movie today" talking point in the modern cinematic discourse as it's usually wrong and often just a way to diminish legitimate progression. The truth is that people have always found new ways to be funny, and that's usually a good thing. Having said that, they really couldn't make "Weird Science" today. A movie about teen boys who make a dream woman who then makes them the heroes of their school? Not likely. So we should watch "Weird Science" as a product of its era. And it's a pretty damn funny product. I've always been a fan of this movie's goofy energy, especially Bill Paxton's ridiculous supporting performance. It's cool to see Arrow giving it the full treatment, including a brand new restoration and TONS of special features. Criterion probably thinks it's too good for "Weird Science." Thank God we have Arrow too. 

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Special Features
New restoration by Arrow Films from a 4K scan of the original negative
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation of the original Theatrical Version of the film (94 mins), plus seamlessly-branched exclusive Extended Version (97 mins), featuring two additional scenes newly remastered in high-definition
Original lossless stereo audio, plus 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround option (theatrical version only)
Original English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Edited-for-TV version of the film (SD only, 95 mins), plus comparison featurette highlighting the alternate dubs and takes
Option to watch additional scenes from the Extended Version separately
Newly-filmed interview with special makeup creator Craig Reardon
Newly-filmed interview with composer Ira Newborn
Newly-filmed interview with supporting actor John Kapelos
All-new interview with casting director Jackie Burch
It's Alive: Resurrecting Weird Science, an archive documentary featuring interviews with cast, crew and admirers, including star Anthony Michael Hall
Theatrical trailers and TV spots
Image gallery
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tracie Ching

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