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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: October 17, 2019

3 NEW TO NETFLIX

"The Departed"
"The Game Changers"
"Sinister 2"

6 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD

"3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg" (Criterion)

Criterion has done a remarkable job collecting the works of Josef von Sternberg in two must-own box sets. Last year, they released a set of the wildly successful films he directed with Marlene Dietrich, making her a household name, and this year they've HD-upgraded three previous releases of his early silent works, including his debut film, "Underworld," and two follow-ups, "The Docks of New York" and "The Last Command." All three films look and sound incredible, accompanied by multiple score options. Each film includes a traditional score by Robert Israel along with one by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton on "Docks" and a wonderful pair by Ebertfest regulars The Alloy Orchestra on the other two. This set is worth getting for Alloy's composition for "Underworld" alone. If you've never seen Von Sternberg's work, you should correct that oversight. The notoriously prickly director was a master of movement and composition, doing more with a silent hand motion than most directors do with an entire page of dialogue. 

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Special Features
High-definition digital restorations of all three films
Six scores: by Robert Israel for all three films, Alloy Orchestra for Underworld and The Last Command, and Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton for The Docks of New York
Two video essays from 2010, one by UCLA film professor Janet Bergstrom and the other by film scholar Tag Gallagher
Swedish television interview from 1968 with director Josef von Sternberg
PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by critic Geoffrey O’Brien, scholar Anton Kaes, and author and critic Luc Sante; notes on the scores by the composers; Ben Hecht’s original treatment for Underworld; and an excerpt from von Sternberg’s 1965 auto­biography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, on actor Emil Jannings

"Annabelle Comes Home"

Who could have possibly guessed that "The Conjuring" would produce its own cinematic universe? Not only have we gotten a sequel (with another one in production) but spin-offs like "The Nun," "The Curse of La Llorona," and a stunning three movies about a cursed doll. The original felt like a serious misfire, a clunky attempt to take a prop and extend it into something with actual dramatic weight, but "Annabelle: Creation" is one of the best horror sequels of all time, completely reclaiming this universe. The third "Annabelle" film falls somewhere in between the first and second. It's relatively charming and fun, buoyed by three engaging leads, but it never quite sets its stakes in a way that would make it legitimately scary and kind of ends with a whimper. Still, you could do a lot worse this Halloween season in the Conjuring-verse alone. 

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Special Features
Deleted Scenes
Featurettes:
The Artifact Room & the Occult
The Light & the Love
Behind the Scenes: The Ferryman/Demon, The Bloody Bride, The Werewolf

"Crawl"

Paramount has a bad habit of dumping films they can't figure out how to advertise, such as this creature feature from Alexandre Aja that was unceremoniously dumped this summer without press screenings or much promotion. As you may have heard, the critics and paying audience members who did see "Crawl" have already turned it into something of a cult hit—it made a stunning $90 million worldwide on a $13.5 million budget. Why? Because it's damn solid entertainment. Aja knows how to keep his story of a father and daughter battling alligators during a hurricane lean, tight, and dirty. It's a wonderful example of how to use space to enhance tension and claustrophobia, and it delivers exactly what you want from a low-budget gator flick. It defied expectations in theaters and I suspect it will do even better at home. When's the sequel? (Note: the Alternate Opening on this disc is hysterically bad. A motion-comic rendering of a family being eaten by gators, it shows you how sometimes happy accidents can pay off as it would have started this film on the wrong note and reduced its effectively tight POV.)

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Special Features
Introduction to Alternate Opening 
Alternate Opening 
Alligator Attacks 
Beneath Crawl - Featurette 
Category 5 Gators: The VFX of Crawl - Featurette
Deleted and Extended Scenes 

"The Haunting of Hill House"

There's an interesting debate as to how Netflix is shaping the world of physical media. The thought that collectors will never have films like "Roma" or "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" or "Mudbound" on an actual disc—something they don't pay to subscribe to but actually own—is a bit disconcerting for those of us who still value Blu-ray and DVD. What I find most interesting about the Blu-ray release of Netflix's "The Haunting of Hill House" is its very existence. Now it's possible to own this excellent series from Mike Flanagan even if you lose access to mom and dad's Netflix account. And I wonder if this is the start of a pattern if this release does well. The draw of episodes that are extended past their Netflix iteration could easily translate to other shows. Wouldn't you buy longer episodes of "Stranger Things" or commentaries on "Mindhunter"? This could be the start of something fascinating for collectors. 

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Special Features
Extended Cuts of "Steven Sees a Ghost" (101), "The Bent-Neck Lady" (105), and "Silence Lays Steadily" (110)
Commentary on "Steven Sees a Ghost," "The Bent-Neck Lady," "Two Storms" (106), and "Silence Lays Steadily"

"Midsommar"

Ari Aster's second film is a daring examination of gender roles and cult behavior anchored by a great performance from Florence Pugh at its center. The Blu-ray release transfers the film gorgeously, but feels lacking in two key departments. Not only are there hardly any special features on it, but the theatrically-released director's cut is missing, and will reportedly be exclusive to Apple TV. That's a shame, and hopefully we will get a special edition release of that film on disc somewhere down the line. As for the theatrical version, it's an ambitious work that I don't think comes together quite as well as "Hereditary" but still reveals Aster's strengths as a director of performance and with daring visual compositions. Now, if only I could compare it to the director's cut ...

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Special Features
"Let the Festivities Begin: Manifesting Midsommar" Featurette
"Bear in a Cage" Promo

"Toy Story 4"

When it was announced that Pixar was revisiting the world of Andy and Buzz, there was as much of a collective sigh as there was anticipation. Why mess with such a perfect trilogy of films? What's kind of fascinating now is that the general consensus seems to be that "Toy Story 4" is an incredibly fine piece of children's entertainment that still didn't really need to exist. The trilogy is just so perfect that even the best moments here feel like a shadow of what came before. Having said that, there's much joy to be found in the visual daring of this movie, one of the richest of Pixar's history, and the film does explore themes of mortality and purpose in challenging ways. It holds up well on repeat viewing at home, especially on 4K, where the colors seem richer and the depth of field greater than it did in theaters. 

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Special Features
Toy Stories – The Toy Story 4 cast and crew share their love of toys!
Woody & Buzz – Take a look at the relationship between these two legendary characters.
Bo Rebooted – Discover how Team Bo reimagined all aspects of Bo Peep's identity to arrive at the fully realized character seen in the film.
Toy Box – Enjoy a collection of mini-docs on the film's memorable new characters, featuring the voice actors, director Josh Cooley and Pixar artists talking about the many elements that make these characters fun and lovable
Let's Ride With Ally Maki – Ally Maki, voice of Giggle McDimples, learns all about Pixar's dialogue recording process from director Josh Cooley and his team.
Deleted Scenes introduced by director Josh Cooley
Audio Commentary
Trailers

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