The New Blu-Ray Releases You Should Check Out This Week: 'Dunkirk', 'Mother!', 'The Lego Ninjago Movie', And More

(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.)

We're almost there, folks! 2017 is almost at an end, and as we burn through the holiday season, it's time to kick back and catch up on some new films you might've missed in theaters. That's where good old Blu-rays come in. Yes, that's right – there's more to movies than streaming. Pretty sure I mentioned that before. I've put together a jam-packed new Blu-ray round-up for you to close out the year. There's a lot of good stuff here, including one of Christopher Nolan's best films; a polarizing horror movie from Darren Aronofsky; a surprisingly honest biopic; a harrowing Kathryn Bigelow drama based on a true story; yet another one of those dang Lego movies; a spy sequel; and a true crime miniseries. Here are the new Blu-ray releases you should check out this week.

Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan crafts one of his most meticulous films with Dunkirk, a war movie that's less about fighting and more about survival. Nolan draws on the real-life Battle of Dunkirk, and the mad-dash to evacuate trapped British soldiers that followed, building a three-pronged narrative set on land, sea and air. At first, these three threads seem as if they're independent of one another, but slowly and surely, Nolan draws them all together until they merge into one complete story.

This is one of Nolan's best films, and a perfect example of his ever-evolving technical abilities. Few filmmakers right now are working on a scale this large, with this type of commitment to the craft. That said, Dunkirk won't be for everyone. It's a surprisingly abstract movie – long stretches unfold with little to no dialogue, and a good portion of the soldiers are interchangeable, character-wise. Yet the film also has stellar turns from actors like Mark Rylance, playing a good-hearted hero, and Tom Hardy, playing a cool-as-ice Spitfire pilot.

Nolan shot a huge portion of Dunkirk with IMAX cameras, and while this technique worked magnificently on the big screen, it calls attention to itself a bit too much on Blu-ray. Whenever a scene switches to IMAX, the frame on your TV will expand. It can be distracting now and then, but not detrimentally so. All in all, Dunkirk is one of the year's best films, and Nolan fans will surely want to snap this Blu-ray release up.

Special Features To Note: Of all the new Blu-ray releases this week, Dunkirk is the top pick. There's a wealth of mini-documentary features that cover nearly every element of the production of Dunkirk. Nolan is one of those filmmakers who will likely never do a director's commentary again, so if you're looking for his insight into the filmmaking process as a whole, these features are a goldmine. Nolan gives a breakdown of how he approached the film both technically and thematically, and it's clear this whole project was a labor of love.

A good portion of this is devoted to shooting the film with the huge IMAX cameras. "Dunkirk is a huge story, and it demanded an enormous canvas," Nolan says of shooting in the large format. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema talks about how he worked to make the clunky IMAX cameras as handheld as possible, which was very physically demanding. There's also footage of van Hoytema sitting in the cockpit of a real plane as it zooms and rolls through the air, giving the cinematographer a chance to figure out how to shoot the aerial battles.  

Nolan and company worked to create as many of the film's special effects in-camera rather than than relying on CGI. The crew talks about how Nolan would rather use no visual effects at all if possible, and when he has to, it'll always be a combination of practical effects mixed in with CGI. The features here are an overall thorough look at the creation of the film.

Special Features Include:

  • Creation: Revisiting the Miracle
  • Creation: Dunkerque
  • Creation: Expanding the Frame
  • Creation: The In-Camera Approach
  • Land: Rebuilding the Mole
  • Land: The Army On the Beach
  • Land: Uniform Approach
  • Air: Taking to the Air
  • Air: Inside the Cockpit
  • Sea: Assembling the Naval Fleet
  • Sea: Launching the Moonstone
  • Sea: Taking to the Sea
  • Sea: Sinking the Ships
  • Sea: The Little Ships
  • Conclusion: Turning Up the Tension
  • Conclusion: The Dunkirk Spirit

mother!

I don't think anyone could have predicted that Darren Aronofsky's mother! would end up being one of the most divisive films of the year, but here we are. An utterly bonkers examination of toxic men who see their female muses as objects for their own personal benefit and little else, mother! is a trippy, shocking, nasty horror movie that starts off like a home invasion thriller and then descends into utter chaos.

Jennifer Lawrence plays a woman who wants nothing more than to fix up her husband's old family home while said husband (played by Javier Bardem) works on his writing. Things go quickly awry, however, when a stranger (Ed Harris) shows up at the front door and ends up staying the night. The next day, the stranger's wife (a gloriously wicked Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, and things get even worse. From here you can sort of guess where mother! is going, but just when you assume you have this story figured out, Aronofsky pulls the rug out from under you and unleashes hell.

But does it work? There's no clear answer to that. Some people loved the fever dream that Aronofsky was selling here, while others thought this flick was an abomination. As for me, I'm somewhere in the middle. I appreciate how fucking nuts this movie is, and how committed Aronofsky is to making the madness increase with every single moment, but I also think the film doesn't quite come together the way it should. Part of the problem is Lawrence – a talented actress who is nonetheless wrong for this part. Yet for all its flaws, mother! is so unlike anything else you've seen in some time that it's hard not to commend the film for daring to be weird.

Special Features To Note: This would definitely be my second pick for all the new Blu-ray releases of the week. You just have to see this movie. The documentary mother! The Downward Spiral tracks the making of Aronofsky's film, from conception to rehearsal to filming. Aronofsky says here that he wanted to "make something that's very grounded but then slowly lifts out of realism as the film progresses," and he certainly achieved that.

We learn through this feature that Aronofsky and the cast actually spent three months rehearsing the film, and Aronofsky went so far as to film the entire rehearsal. That is a long time for rehearsal for a film; it's the type of thing one tends to do for a play, not a motion picture.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique points out an element of the film that many may miss: almost the entire movie is shot with three distinct angles: one, over Jennifer Lawrence's shoulder; two,  a close-up of Lawrence from the neck up, "because you're not conscious of your body when you're walking around," says Libatique; and three, via a point of view shot. This is the language of the film, and it helps to put us almost entirely within Lawrence's headspace.

The only other feature is The Makeup FX of mother!, which details the creation of some of the nastier, gorier effects in the film, including a blown-off face, a toilet monster, a burnt-to-a-crisp body, and a robot baby. Like I said the movie is weird. My only complaint with this release: there are no features here that teach you how to brace a sink.

Special Features Include:

  • mother! The Downward Spiral
  • The Makeup FX of mother!

Stronger

I'll admit that I avoided Stronger in theaters, because I assumed it was going to be just another flag-waving hagiography that simply wanted an excuse to dramatize real-life heroics. In other words, I was expecting this to be like one of the many films Mark Wahlberg pumps out – it even has the Boston setting that I just automatically associate with Wahlberg. But Stronger surprised me. Director David Gordon Green is not some gun for hire, and actually takes the time to craft an emotional warts-and-all story that features realistic individuals instead of one-note archetypes.

Stronger focuses on the true story of Jeff Bauman, who lost both his legs in the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013. Rather than portray Bauman as a movie hero, Stronger actually takes time to show him as a flawed individual. The same thing goes for his family, who are a group of loud, vulgar Bostonites. Green's film isn't mocking these people; it's merely taking care to show them as they likely really are.

The centerpiece of Stronger is Jake Gyllenhaal's raw, frequently devastating performance. The whole world, including his family, wants Gyllenhaal's Jeff Bauman to be a symbol of heroism, but Bauman is clearly suffering from PTSD – PTSD that he attempts to simply ignore, until it's almost impossible to push away, causing problems with his girlfriend, played perfectly by Tatiana Maslany in a melancholy, understated performance.

If, like me, you avoided Stronger, I suggest you pick up the Blu-ray and give it a try. It might surprise you.

Special Features To Note: There's only one feature here  – "Faith, Hope & Love: Becoming Stronger", a nearly 30-minute featurette that serves as a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. There's interviews with nearly everyone involved with the film here, including the real Jeff Bauman himself.

Gyllenhaal says what drew him to the script was its surprising sense of humor, despite the tragic circumstances of the story. One of the most amusing moments in this featurette comes from the real Jeff Bauman, who says when he learned that Gyllenhaal was going to play him in the film, he immediately thought, "How's he going to play me? He's way better looking."

Other elements of the featurette focus on the special effects used to digitally erase Gyllenhaal's legs, and there's behind-the-scenes footage of Gyllenhaal wearing green screen socks and other such trickery.

The filmmakers used as many real locations in Boston as possible, including the real hospital Jeff went to after the bombing. The only place the film did not shoot on location was the sight of the bombing itself. The filmmakers were aware that recreating the bombing on the actual spot, or really anywhere out in the open in Boston, would be in poor taste, so they shot this moment on a closed set they constructed in a secure location. As for other elements of realism, the production went so far as to use several real people involved with the story, including the real people who helped create Jeff's prosthetic legs, Jeff's real physical therapist playing herself, and the real doctor who amputated Jeff's legs.

Special Features Include:

  • "Faith, Hope & Love: Becoming Stronger" Featurette

Detroit

Kathryn Bigelow is one of the best filmmakers around right now, but sadly, she hadn't made a feature film since the tense, excellent 2012 drama Zero Dark Thirty. Bigelow ended her brief feature hiatus with the harrowing Detroit, another true-life story for the director.

Detroit focuses on the 1967 12th Street Riot, and an incident at the Algiers Motel that happened as the riot unfolded. The film deals directly with racism, with Will Poulter giving an incredible-yet-sickening performance as an extremely racist cop. It's clear that Bigelow thought this was an important story to tell, and the filmmaker gives almost every detail the sharpest attention. But Detroit is not one of Bigelow's best films. For one thing, it's 143 minute runtime focusing on police brutality and murder is tough to take. Obviously that was Bigelow's intention, and she and screenwriter Mark Boal deserve kudos for not sugarcoating things.

But Detroit reaches a point where it begins to resemble The Passion of the Christ, in that it seems more obsessed with carnage than it does examining the psychology of it all. Overall, this is a hard film to classify. It's by no means a bad film, and Bigelow remains a steller filmmaker. Yet Detroit never entirely coalesces the way it should. I'd still recommend seeing it, but it's not an easy watch. Then again, maybe it shouldn't be.

Special Features to Note: There are several featurettes here, but frustratingly, they are almost entirely focused on the real life events that Detroit is portraying. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with that – the real-life people involved here deserve to have their voices heard. But I can't help but wish one long featurette had been cut together focusing on the real individuals, and then for additional featurettes to be made about the making of the film. In other words, I want more feedback from Bigelow about how she created the film. Sadly, there's not a lot of that here. Still, the featurettes focusing on the real story and real people are insightful and worth a look.

Special Features Include:

  • The Truth of Detroit
  • The Cast of Detroit
  • The Invasion of Detroit
  • The Hope of Detroit
  • Detroit – Then and Now
  • Algee Smith and Larry Reed: "Grow"

The Lego Ninjago Movie

What the hell is a Ninjago? I have no idea. But they made a movie about it! I remain slightly dubious about this whole Lego movie craze – yeah, The Lego Movie was surprisingly funny, and The Lego Batman Movie was a hoot as well, but it's hard to overlook the fact that these films are pretty much feature-length toy commercials.

That said, I'll admit it: The Lego Ninjago Movie is entertaining. I have no familiarity with the Ninjago brand, so I don't know if people even care that much about this, or if there was even a real story to adapt. The film features a group of teenage ninjas  – voiced by Dave Franco, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña and Zach Woods – who pilot giant mechs to do battle with the evil Lord Garmadon, hilariously voiced by Justin Theroux.

Here's the twist: one of the ninjas is the son of Garmadon, and a good chunk of the film involves father and son coming to terms with each other. The Lego Ninjago Movie is surprisingly very funny, but the film is also clearly geared to young ADD-suffering audiences, and as such is loaded with big, loud, flashy moments that started to make my head hurt after a while. Kids will probably love it, though. Also, Jackie Chan shows up and is hilarious as the ninjas' master.

Special Features to Note: The Lego Ninjago Movie Blu-ray is packed with features, including behind-the-scenes stuff, mini-movies, deleted scenes, music videos, and "bloopers," which are really just a series of staged animated bloopers – stop doing this, it's weird and unfunny.

The behind-the-scenes features are the best, because it's there we learn that co-star Jackie Chan and his team, the JC Stunt Team, actually designed all the martial arts for the movie. Stunt performers would fight with wire work and more, the fights would be captured on video, rendered digitally and then used to create the various fights throughout the movie. It's neat!

Garmadon is a character with 4 arms, so to create his fights, two members of the stunt team – one for the upper arms, one for the lower – had to work together to create his movements. It all goes to show how much detail went into creating this movie.

The filmmakers reveal that in building their Lego world, they don't cheat anything, including brick size. Everything you see on screen can, in theory, be built using real Legos. That's kind of nuts. One of the film's villains is a cat that starts wrecking the city, and the cat looks incredibly real in the film, to the point where I just assumed they filmed a real cat against green screen and dropped it into the movie. Nope! That cat is CGI, folks – although they did film a real cat first to recreate its movements digitally.

Beyond the behind-the-scenes stuff, there are mini-movies, including one truly strange short about a shark trying to get back to the ocean to marry a crab. It's...strange.

Special Features Include:

  • Team Supreme: Building NINJAGO – featurette
  • Rumble in the Bricks- featurette
  • Rebrick Contest Winners- featurette
  • Which Way to the Ocean – mini-movie
  • Zane's Stand Up Promo – mini-movie
  • The Master: A LEGO NINJAGO Short – mini-movie
  • LEGO® NINJAGO TV Series Sneak Peek
  • Oh, Hush! & Jeff Lewis Found My Place – Music Video
  • Everybody Have a Ninja Day – Music Video
  • Rocktagon – Music Video
  • Warlord Ballad – Music Video
  • Animation Bridge Test – Deleted Scene
  • Baby Fight– Deleted Scene
  • Dock Scene– Deleted Scene
  • Gimme Some Outtakes!
  • Commentary by Director Charlie Bean and Crew
  • 13 Promotional Videos

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

I know that people love Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman series, but I'm a bit resistant to its charms. I appreciate the vibe Vaughn and company are going for, I love the style of the films, and I dig most of the cast. Still, there's a juvenile element to the series that just irks me ever-so-slightly.

That said, if you loved Kingsman: The Secret Service, you're going to love this sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Colin Firth is back, and thank heavens, since he was the best part of the first film. The new cast includes Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal and, oddly enough, Elton John.

The plot involves the proper British Kingsman clashing with their American counterparts the Statesmen, but really this is all just an excuse for Vaughn to stage big, goofy-yet-entertaining set pieces. Again, I freely acknowledge that people seem to love all of this, and the plots of these films barely matter as much as the set pieces. Still, I want something more. I'm sorry! Anyway, if you're a Kingsman fan you will obviously be ready to buy this.

Special Features To Note: While almost every film on this week's round-up could stand to have a few more in-depth special features, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the opposite: there's too much detail here. I appreciate that Vaughn and company went all-in on dissect the film, but yeesh, I don't know if this is the type of film that needs so many featurettes.

Literally every aspect of production, from the writing, to the casting, to the costume design, and beyond, gets some attention here. One thing you'll notice in all the behind-the-scenes footage is an almost hilarious abundance of green screen – pretty much every scene employs it in some capacity. This isn't a complaint – it's actually impressive how easily the film erases the green screen to the point where it's not even close to being noticed.

Vaughn talks about how the first film was meant to be a "celebration of Britannia and being British" and The Golden Circle is meant to be the American counterpart to that, with a focus on Americana. The director also talks about how difficult it was to create a sequel. He says that when it comes to sequels, "people want what they saw before but they don't what they say before," so the challenge was recreating the atmosphere of the first film without doing the same thing twice.

There's also a considerable amount of time spent focusing on the casting of Elton John to play himself. Vaughn says he "always wanted to do an action scene with Elton John," and he finally got his wish when the singer agreed to appear in the film. If you wanted to learn pretty much everything there is to know about the making of this movie, then the special features here are absolutely for you.

Special Features Include:

  • KINGSMAN: INSIDE THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (Multi-chaptered Documentary)
  • Distilling The Story: Kingsman Returns
  • Trafficker, Tailor, Southerner, Spy
  • Poppy's Special Guest: Elton John
  • Nefarious Lairs & High-Falutin' Headquarters
  • Suited And Booted
  • Weapons of Choice
  • Brothers In Arms
  • Doomsday Protocol: Visual Effects
  • End Game
  • Black Cab Chaos: Anatomy of a Killer Chase
  • Kingsman Archives
  • Concept Art: Sets, Costumes (36 Images)
  • Stills: Behind The Scenes, Sets, Props, The Cast (52 Images)

Manhunt: Unabomber 

(Arrives Blu-ray plus Digital and DVD December 26)

If you've finished Netflix's Mindhunter and are craving something similar, check out this miniseries. Manhunt: Unabomber is a fictionalized account of the true story about the hunt for the Unabomber, aka Ted Kaczynski.

Sam Worthington plays FBI criminal profile Jim Fitzgerald, who obsessively tracks the Unabomber for years. Fitzgerald's obsession alienates his wife and friends at the FBI, but all he cares about is stopping the madman mailing bombs to people. Manhunt isn't nearly as stylish or cinematic as Mindhunter, and it very much feels like a TV movie – there are even parts where a scene ends by going black for a beat, indicating the place where a commercial break could be inserted.

But the series moves at a brisk pace, and there are some interesting revelations here, particularly a moment involving the infamous Unabomber sketch. I won't give away what's revealed about that sketch, but let's just say it resulted in me sitting straight up on my couch and saying, "Holy shit." That's worth the price alone, folks.

Paul Bettany plays Ted Kaczynski, and delivers a fairly chilling performance as the demented bomber. Now and then, the series feels like it's slipping into Hannibal territory with flash-forwards featuring Fitzgerald interviewing Kaczynski in prison, but it mostly works. Most of the series is from Fitzgerald's point of view, but one episode that focuses solely on Kaczynski and gets inside his head is surprisingly excellent, and the most stylistic episode of the entire series.

Special Features to Note: There are three super quick featurettes here. They only really go into the true story, not the making of the film, so if you were looking for any details on the production...sorry.

The featurettes here may be brief, but they're interesting enough, I suppose. The real-life James Fitzgerald is on hand to give some insight into the real world of criminal profiling, as well as the real-life Unabomber and his real manifesto. This is all fine, but there's probably a lengthier TV documentary out there that covers this in more detail.

Special Features Include:

  • "Criminal Profiling" Featurette
  • "Who is the Unabomber?" Featurette
  • "Deciphering the Manifesto" Featurette