The New Blu-Ray Releases You Should Check Out This Week

(Welcome to Not Dead Yet, a feature dedicated to what's new on Blu-ray and what special features you should be excited about. Because yes, some of us still like to own physical copies of our movies.)

It's time for another round-up of the best Blu-ray releases you can find this week. While some of you may have made the full switch to digital, I'll be riding the Blu-ray train until this baby derails! There's just something warmer about Blu-ray compared to digital; something more inviting. Or that could all be in my head.

This week's Blu-ray column includes one of Marvel's most enjoyable films, a Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, a fantastic film noir, one of the best directed films of 2017, a long-lost horror film, a not-so-classic recent horror film, and a bonafide Frank Capra classic. Here are the new Blu-ray releases you should check out this week.

Spider-Man: Homecoming 

"Oh great, another Spider-Man movie." This was the thought that went through my head before I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming. In my humble opinion, the last thing we needed as filmgoers was yet another new take on Spider-Man, a character who has had approximately 500 reboots (okay, not really, but it's been a lot). But you know what? Spider-Man: Homecoming is an absolute blast! It's highly entertaining and one of the most enjoyable films Marvel has made to date. A deal with Sony enabled Spidey to enter the ever-growing MCU with Captain: America: Civil War. There, as played by Tom Holland, the character stood out. This was primarily due to Holland's charming, funny performance. In Homecoming, Holland gets to take center stage, and proves he's the best Spider-Man yet.

The plot of Spider-Man: Homecoming is a little wonky, and it does succumb to an ending involving a doomsday device of sorts as all tired superhero movies apparently think they must. But overall, the film succeeds by being so damn likable. And funny! This is basically a high school comedy that just happens to be about Spider-Man. And not only is Holland great, but the rest of the cast is charming as hell as well. Even Michael Keaton's bad guy is relatable in a way, although some of that is due to Keaton's quirky performance. The best of the supporting bunch is Zendaya, playing Peter's incredibly low-key classmate Michelle. With an incredibly dry wit and a perpetually ambivalent look, Zendaya's Michelle is pretty much the best character in the MCU at this point. More of her in the sequel, please. As an added bonus, Robert Downey Jr., who has been on autopilot in the last few Marvel films, wakes up and remembers to turn on the charm that made him a superstar to begin with. All in all, Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2017.

Special Features to Note: This Blu-ray release has over an hour's worth of materials. There's a plethora of deleted and/or extended scenes, and I'll just come out and say it: none of them are that great and very few add anything more to the film as it is now. The only thing that makes some of these extended scenes worth watching is the fact that the special effects work isn't finished, so there are several moments where a clip art still image of Spider-Man will be floating across the screen when it's supposed to be the real Spidey. In addition to these deleted scenes, there's also stuff like the "Spidey Study Guide," which plays like a pop-up video of trivia that connects events from the movie to the comics.

"A Tangled Web" talks about bringing Spidey into the MCU from Sony and attempting to tell the MCU story from the outside of the main MCU adventures. This feature is fine, but also has a moment that will completely kill any silly dream you might have about films still being art and not a cold business: at one point, Robert Downey Jr. cheerfully says, "Just the fact that two massive studios can get along and share IP is great!" "Finding Spider-Man" examines how compared to the other MCU characters, Spider-Man is just a normal kid. It also talks about how essential Tom Holland was for the part. Producers looked at over 7000 audition tapes, then met about 200 actors before settling on Holland, both for his acting chops and also the fact that he has a dance background which enables him to do a lot of his own stunts. The best feature of the bunch is "Rappin' With Cap", which is a collection of the hilarious Captain America Public Service Announcements.

Special Features Include:

  • The Spidey Study Guide
  • 10 Deleted Scenes
  • Gag Reel
  • Seven Featurettes
  • "A Tangled Web"
  • "Searching For Spider-Man"
  • "Spidey Stunts"
  • "Aftermath"
  • "The Vulture Takes Flight"
  • "Jon Watts: Head of the Class"
  • "Pros And Cons of Spider-Man"
  • Rappin' with Cap: Captain America PSAs
  • Photo Gallery

Barry Lyndon

What's the best Stanley Kubrick movie? I'm sure everyone has a different answer, although The Shining probably ends up with the most votes. But for my money, the best Kubrick is his 1975 masterpiece Barry Lyndon. A mythological period piece about a poor Irishman who basically fails upward through society until he becomes a nobleman, Barry Lyndon moves at its own deliberate pace, but gosh almighty does it do so gorgeously. Kubrick has seemingly brought an entire portrait gallery to life.

With scenes lit by candlelight set against lush, ornate backdrops, Barry Lyndon is one of the most gorgeous films ever made. Honestly, I can't even think of another movie as beautiful as this. The painterly images are contrasted with a darkly funny tale of a complete jerk who finds his way into high society and proceeds to blow it at every turn. The proceedings unfold via an omnipotent narrator with a wicked sense of humor. The narrator tends to warn the audience when something unfortunate is going to happen, but rather than spoil the moment, this warning only enhances it, putting us all on edge as we wait for the terrible thing to happen. The Criterion Collection has brought this stunning film to Blu-ray with a jaw-dropping 4K digital restoration, and it's worth every penny.

Special Features to Note: "Working with Stanley Kubrick was long, intense and thoroughly enjoyable," says Douglas Milsome, the focus puller on Barry Lyndon. There are a handful of features on the Blu-ray, and almost all of them delve into what a genius Kubrick was and just why Barry Lyndon is so wonderful. Some of these features may strike some as stuffy, and they likely won't appeal to a wide audience but rather cinephiles. Still, they're enjoyable to watch and feature anecdotes about the making of the film. For instance: since most scenes were lit by candlelight, the candles would inadvertently suck the oxygen out of the rooms as they burned down. The rooms would then need to be aired out between each take. Another tidbit of info: while the film is filled with long, deliberate zooms that slowly reveal more and more of a scene, Kubrick never referred to them as zooms but rather described the process as "varying the focal length."

A feature devoted to production designer Ken Adams also reveals something interesting. Adams worked as the production designer on several James Bond films. After he had finished Barry Lyndon, he was working on the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. When Adams had trouble lighting a scene he actually called up Kubrick for help, and Kubrick came to Pinewood Studios to lend a hand. The most fascinating feature of the bunch has art curator Adam Eaker examining the various period paintings that Kubrick drew inspiration from.

Special Features Include:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
  • New documentary featuring cast and crew interviews as well as audio excerpts from a 1976 interview with director Stanley Kubrick
  • New program about the film's groundbreaking visuals, featuring focus puller Douglas Milsome and gaffer Lou Bogue as well as excerpts from a 1980 interview with cinematographer John Alcott
  • New program featuring historian Christopher Frayling on Academy Award–winning production designer Ken Adam
  • New interview with editor Tony Lawson
  • French television interview from 1976 with Ulla-Britt Söderlund, who codesigned the film's Oscar-winning costumes
  • New interview with critic Michel Ciment
  • New interview with actor Leon Vitali about the 5.1 surround soundtrack, which he cosupervised
  • New piece analyzing the fine-art-inspired aesthetics of the film with curator Adam Eaker
  • Trailers
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien and two pieces about the look of the film from the March 1976 issue of American Cinematographer

Baby Driver

Edgar Wright's Baby Driver is one of the best-directed films of the year, but I'm still not 100% sure that makes it one of the best films of the year. To be sure, Wright directs the hell out of this movie, staging one incredible set piece after another, creating an exciting, entertaining thrill ride. Yet the script has issues, particularly when it comes to main love interest Debora (Lily James), who is little more than an object and not much of a character.

Wright turns what could be a simple heist movie into something akin to a car chase musical. Ansel Elgort is Baby, a super-fast, super-skilled driver who drowns out a hum in his ear with a constant supply of music. That music makes up the soundtrack of the film, and most of it is fantastic. Baby is a getaway driver, transporting bank robbers from one location to the next until he's paid of his debt to ringleader Doc (Kevin Spacey). But all Baby wants to be is free, driving off into the sunset with Debora.

There's so much to like here, particularly the supporting cast, which includes Jon Hamm with a really cool haircut and Jamie Foxx bringing a level of menace that we haven't really seen from him before. And then there are those car chase scenes, staged with real cars. They're an absolute blast to watch. Still, I keep coming back to that script, and to the way that Debora has almost no agency. To her credit, Lily James does her absolute best to give the character a third dimension, and she's a very charming actress. But there's just not enough material for her to work with. I'm also not really sold on Elgort's performance, which seems to often mistaken "wooden" for "cool." Still, it's hard to deny how much damn fun Baby Driver is.

Special Features to Note: The Baby Driver Blu-ray is practically overflowing with extras. There's almost 20 minutes of deleted scenes on here, although the bulk of them are just quick snippets that add a few minutes onto scenes that already exist. For instance, in the opening scene, where Baby is rocking out to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, he tries on another pair of his endless supply of sunglasses before switching back. The real meat and potatoes of the features are the behind the scenes videos. Choreographer Ryan Heffington talks a lot about how he worked with all the actors to keep them all in sync with the music – one of the film's most memorable features is how almost everything, from counting money to walking down the street, will line-up with the tempo or beat of the song playing during the scene. Off camera, Heffington can be seen counting out steps for the actors so they stay in time. There's also a feature about how Elgort learned to stunt-drive for the film, and even if you're not really into the concept of cars or racing (as I'm not), this segment will probably make you jealous and wish you could do something like that for a day.

Special Features Include:

  • Extended/Deleted Scenes – 20 minutes of extended scenes and a few moments that were dropped from the final cut.
  • Mozart In A Go-Kart: Ansel Drives – Ride shotgun with star Ansel Elgort as he works with the talented stunt drivers to become the ultimate getaway driver.                                   
  • I Need A Killer Track: The Music – Explore how the film's phenomenal soundtrack dictated both the writing process and all aspects of production on Baby Driver.                
  • That's My Baby: Edgar Wright – Follow Edgar Wright's vision of Baby Driver from its inception two decades ago, to its ultimate realization on the big screen.                         
  • Meet Your New Crew: Doc's Gang – Led by powerhouse Kevin Spacey, the cast assembled to form Doc's gang is perfectly constructed with stars like Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm as well as up and coming talent like Eiza González and Jon Bernthal. Go behind the scenes to see this talented group at work as they bring these characters to life.   
  • Find Something Funky On There: The Choreography – With every frame of Baby Driver set to a specific beat it took precise choreography by the cast, crew and editors to create a cinematic dance like nothing that's been done before.  Hear from the choreographer and filmmakers on this groundbreaking process.                                             
  • Devil Behind The Wheel: The Car Chases – From closing down Atlanta's interstates to creating eyepopping maneuvers for a variety of vehicles, witness the amazing craftsmanship and sheer determination that made the film's incredible car chases possible.
  • Animatics – Check out over 35 minutes of the numerous pre-vis animatics developed by Edgar Wright as part of his meticulous preparation.
  • Ansel Elgort Audition – See firsthand the audition that proved without a doubt that Ansel Elgort was the perfect choice for Baby.
  • Annotated Coffee Run Rehearsal – Day one of production involved one of the film's most elaborately choreographed sequences where every movement is carefully crafted.  Check out the preliminary rehearsal and see the behind the scenes movement in concert with Ansel Elgort's on camera choreography.                                                
  • Hair, Make Up & Costume Tests – In this stylized montage, witness the transformation of the actors through costume, hair and make-up tests.
  • Mint Royale – "Blue Song" Music Video – This music video directed by Edgar years ago for the band Mint Royale showcases some early inspiration for Baby Driver.
  • Complete Storyboard Gallery – See the elaborate storyboards developed for the film in this gallery featuring storyboards for the entire film.           
  • Director Commentary
  • Filmmaker Commentary (Edgar Wright and Director of Photography Bill Pope)

The Poughkeepsie Tapes

After The Blair Witch Project made box office history, found footage-style horror became all the rage. Films that were made to look like they were shot by the characters within, or made to look like faux documentaries, sprung-up everywhere like weeds. Before the found footage bubble burst, we got some really terrible trips into the sub-genre. But occasionally there were some really inspired concepts. Like 2007's The Poughkeepsie Tapes, a genuinely unnerving found footage film about the discovery of a trove of VHS tapes shot by a serial killer. The Poughkeepsie Tapes has become something of the stuff of legend, mainly because after the film screened at a few film festivals, it was quickly snapped-up by a distributor. A trailer started popping-up in theaters, I remember seeing it in front of several movies. Then – nothing. The film was pulled from release and practically vanished off the face of the earth. The film eventually became available in 2014 streaming on DirectTV (which is how I eventually saw it), and now the good folks at Shout! Factory have finally brought it to Blu-ray.

Told in a faux documentary style, The Poughkeepsie Tapes begins with investigators talking about the discovery of a large number of VHS tapes, all of which were shot by the notorious serial killer known as Water Street Butcher. From here, the film delves into the tapes. Shot on grainy video, the tapes range from strange to amusing to downright terrifying. Eventually a narrative takes shape, involving the abduction of a woman who becomes the killer's willing victim, so to speak. She's so traumatized by her experience that a case of Stockholm syndrome sets in, and she begins to think the killer loves her.

The end result is bleak, and there are times where the film feels as if it's gone way too far. But there's also something remarkable about how committed The Poughkeepsie Tapes is to its concept, and how well it executes it. A full explanation as to why the film was pulled has never really been given. Did the distributor think it was too intense? Or just terrible? We'll never know, but at least we have the film now.

Special Features to Note: Sadly, the features on this release are pretty slim. We get an interview with writer and director John Erick Dowdle and writer and producer Drew Dowdle, who also made the films Quarantine and As Above So Below. The filmmakers give some insight into the making of the film and its festival build up. The filmmakers talk about how the film was a huge hit at the Tribeca Film Festival, but subsequent festival screenings didn't go so well. These failed subsequent screenings were likely due to the fact that the distributor wanted to sell the film as a real documentary, which the filmmakers thought was a terrible idea. Audiences did too, apparently, because this form of manipulation backfired and resulted in some angry reactions. There's also an interview with actress Stacy Chbosky, who plays the killer's willing victim. She talks a bit about how she originally came to the project to help behind the scenes with auditions, and how she ended up being so animated and into the audition process that the filmmakers decided to cast her. All in all these interviews total about an hour, yet some more features would've gone a long way.

Special Features Include:

  • NEW Interviews With Writer/Director John Erick Dowdle, Writer/Producer Drew Dowdle, And Actress Stacy Chbosky
  • Theatrical Trailer

Wish Upon

Imagine if someone combined Wishmaster and Final Destination, and you'll have a pretty good idea with Wish Upon is like. This is what I like to call Teen Horror; a horror film watered down to appeal to a mass audience who probably aren't really paying attention to the movie anyway. That's fine, I'm not besmirching that; if that's your thing, enjoy. But for those of us who want a little more substance with our horror, films like Wish Upon leave much to be desired.

Joey King is Clare, an unpopular girl still haunted by the suicide of her mother. Clare's family is struggling a bit, and her dad, Ryan Phillippe With A Beard, keeps making difficult by making a living as a professional trash picker. All Clare wants is to be popular, and rich, and for her dad to play the saxophone again. When her dad finds a Chinese music box in one of his trash picking excursions, he gives it to Clare as a gift. It turns out the box has magic powers to grant 7 wishes, but as is the tradition of most movie wishes, they come with a terrible price.

Clare starts wishing for things to improve her social status, but everyone she makes a wish, someone she's come in contact with dies horribly. There is no doubt an idea here that could make for a pretty good horror movie. Wish Upon isn't it. For one thing, all the characters here are despicable. Clare's friends, played by Sydney Park and Stranger Things' Barb herself, Shannon Purser, who I guess we're supposed to like because they're outcasts, are both jerks. The film tries to make these characters sympathetic by having the girls bullied by an even meaner girl, but really you're not going to find yourself rooting for anyone here. Most offensive of all though is how the film completely wastes Twin Peaks' Sherilyn Fenn, who plays a friendly neighbor who mostly just stands across the street waving until she meets a terrible end.

If the film has a saving grace, it's King, who is a charismatic actress and plays the more awkward elements of her character quite well. The unrated version of the film, which is included with this Blu-ray release, contains a few particularly nasty kills. I can only imagine how badly they were edited for the PG-13 theatrical release.

Special Features to Note: The features here will have you wishing for more (get it??). I suppose a film like Wish Upon doesn't warrant Criterion Collection-level special features, but what's on display here is little more than fluff. There's a tour of the spooky attic that plays a part in the film, and there's a mini-documentary where director John R. Leonetti (Annabelle) talks about the purpose of horror movies. He seems like a nice guy, but you're not going to learn anything revealing about horror here.

All in all, this is not the most exciting release, but if you want some sort of horror film to put on in the background as you carve pumpkins for Halloween season, maybe you can pop this on. At the very least, you'll get a scene where Ryan Phillippe busts out a saxophone.

Special Features Include:

  • Unrated Version
  • Theatrical Version
  • "I Wish: The Cast Share What They Would Wish" – Featurette
  • "Attic Tour with Joey King" – Featurette
  • "Directing Darkness: John Leonetti and Cast Talk About Developing a Horror Film" – Featurette
  • "Motion Comics: Lu Mei's Curse and Arthur Sands Reveal The Stories Behind The Previous Owners Of The Box" – Featurette

Lost Horizon

Frank Capra's gorgeous 1937 adaptation of James Hilton's book gets an absolutely stunning 4K high definition Blu-ray restoration by Sony. This Blu-ray release restores the film as best as is humanly possible. Capra's original cut ran nearly 6 hours, but he whittled it down before release. The Blu-ray restores the film to a 133 minute run-time. To make up for some lost footage, the film incorporates still images with the original audio track playing over them.

In Lost Horizon, a group of travelers survive a plane crash in the Himalayas. Just when all hope seems lost, the group is rescued by residents of the mysterious, heavenly Shangri-la. The survivors, originally grateful to be rescued, begin to grow suspicious and suspect they've been abducted. Among the group, only diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Colman) is seemingly fine with the situation, becoming utterly enchanted with Shangri-la. Soon he learns that the leader of Shangri-la, the High Lama (Sam Jaffe), reveals that he's hundreds of years old, and the powers of Shangri-la keeps him alive.

This is an altogether strange film. It's part character drama, part magical realism fantasy. Capra, the filmmaker behind It's A Wonderful Life, takes the time to flesh-out the cast of characters here, which can at times make Lost Horizon feel slightly listless, as if it's going absolutely nowhere. That's part of the film's charm, though. Shangri-la is an escape from the world as we know it; an escape to a potentially better, more peaceful place. As the High lama says to Conway, "Look at the world today. Is there anything more pitiful? What madness there is! What blindness! What unintelligent leadership! A scurrying mass of bewildered humanity, crashing headlong against each other, propelled by an orgy of greed and brutality. A time must come my friend, when this orgy will spend itself. When brutality and the lust for power must perish by its own sword."

Special Features to Note: As beautiful as this release looks, the special features don't quite stack up. They're mostly dry and academic looks at how the film was restored. We get to see the rough, grainy footage as it originally looked before it's quickly replaced with new, clearer imagery. The best feature of the bunch is a "photo documentary", which runs through a series of behind-the-scenes photos as a historian recounts the making of the film and all the work that went into it. Capra was ahead of his time, going so far as to shoot scenes set in cold climates on refrigerated sets so that you could see the actor's breath.

While this is an excellent release and a must-have for any cinephile, the methods used to restore the film via still images tend to take something away from the narrative. It's distracting to suddenly cut, in the middle of a scene, to photos of the characters as we hear audio of them continuing on with the scene. In some instances, the photos have absolutely nothing to do with the scene in question; sometimes they're just actor headshots. Meanwhile, the audio track continues on, and we as an audience have no idea what's even happening. I understand the desire to try to restore the film to its original glory, but maybe it just simply wasn't meant to be if this was the only method to do so.

Special Features Include:

  • A limited edition 24-page Digibook, complete with an all-new essay from film historian Jeremy Arnold and rare archival photos from the film
  • Restoration Audio Commentary
  • Alternate Ending
  • Photo Documentary
  • Restoration: Before and After Comparison
  • Theatrical Trailer

L.A. Confidential 

Few films are as well-written as Curtis Hanson's 1997 noir throwback L.A. Confidential. Adapting the novel by James Ellroy, Hanson and co-writer Brian Helgeland weave a complicated, complex, utterly brilliant tale of three 1950s Los Angeles cops struggling to do the right thing. Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey are the cops – one a brutish thug, one a conniving ladder climber, one who sold his soul long ago. These three inadvertently get mixed up in several cases that are all seemingly connected, although putting the pieces together is going to be murder.

I know I already used masterpiece once before in this column referring to Barry Lyndon, but I'd say L.A. Confidential deserves that distinction as well. You'd be hard pressed to find a film that ties all its loose threads together as satisfyingly as this. It's also, as of now, the only successful adaptation of Ellroy's writing. Very few filmmakers are apparently capable of turning Ellroy's pulpy prose into a great movie, but Hanson and Helgeland pulled it off, and they did so by streamlining things immensely.

Special Features to Note: The bulk of the special features on the new 20th Anniversary Blu-ray release for L.A. Confidential examine just how hard it was to get the film made. Hanson had trouble convincing studios to finance the film because everyone thought a film noir with no stars was going to be a complete dud. I'm sure all these folks felt really dumb when the film went on to acclaim and Academy Award glory. Hanson and Helgeland talk a lot about how they trimmed Ellroy's mammoth book down, something Ellroy himself seems perfectly fine with. Subplots were changed, character motivations were dropped and entire passages ended up on the cutting room floor, yet it all worked out int he end.

The most interesting extra on the Blu-ray is the pilot episode of the failed L.A. Confidential pilot. Made in 2003, this pilot shows exactly how poorly L.A. Confidential could have turned out without someone like Hanson at the helm. All style and no substance, this pilot adaptation seems to think that all it needs to create atmosphere is to fill every room with smoke. Kiefer Sutherland stars as Jack Vincennes, a character played by Spacey in the film. Beyond the name, however, the characters seem nothing alike. In fact, this pilot episode in general seems absolutely nothing like the film beyond the fact that it's set in the 50s and focuses on some cops. It's not really much of a surprise that the pilot was never picked up. Of course, no one in Hollywood ever let failure get in the way of a good idea. In September of this year it was announced that another TV adaptation of L.A. Confidential was in the works.

Special Features Include:

  • Commentary by Critic/Historian Andrew Sarris, James Ellroy, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Ruth Myers, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Brian Helgeland, Jeannine Oppewall, Dante Spinotti and Danny DeVito
  • Whatever You Desire: Making L.A. Confidential
  • Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A. Confidential
  • A True Ensemble: The Cast of L.A. Confidential
  • L.A. Confidential: From Book to Screen
  • L.A. Confidential TV Series Pilot
  • Off the Record: Vintage Cast/Creator Interviews
  • Director Curtis Hanson's Photo Pitch
  • The L.A. of L.A. Confidential Interactive Map Tour
  • Music-Only Track (5.1) Showcasing Jerry Goldsmith's Score
  • Trailers and T.V. Spots
  • Digital HD