New Blu-Ray Releases: 'Avengers: Infinity War', 'First Reformed', 'American Animals'

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

This week's Blu-ray column features the best movie of the year! And also Avengers: Infinity WarInfinity War is the big title here, so much so that there aren't many other Blu releases to compete with it. That said, we're also looking ahead, to next week's release of First Reformed, the best film of 2018 (as of now). Also here: American Animals, an underrated movie that was poorly marketed.

Here are the new Blu-ray releases and their special features you should check out this week and beyond.

Avengers: Infinity War

Here it is, Marvel fans. What you've been waiting for. The opportunity to once again go into shock as you watch a huge chunk of your favorite characters go up in smoke, from the comfort of your own home! Avengers: Infinity War was sold as the biggest Marvel movie yet, and in many ways, that's true. But there's a problem: there's so much stuff going on here that a large group of characters get short-changed. This is less an Avengers sequel and more of a Guardians of the Galaxy movie mixed with a Thor movie that just happens to have cameos from some Avengers (and Spider-Man).And that's fine! Infinity War mostly works, and Josh Brolin's Thanos is a shockingly well-drawn character. Marvel had problems with its villains for the longest time, but they've really started to hit their stride in this territory. Thanos isn't as great a villain as Killmonger in this year's Black Panther, but he's got an actual arc, and Brolin finds a way to make him empathetic (I've seen people call him sympathetic, too, but I refuse to use that word. Thanos is trying to commit genocide, folks – there's nothing sympathetic about that).Infinity War concludes with a surprisingly eerie conclusion – the montage of the MCU characters going up in smoke unnerves in ways no other Marvel movie has before. But there's a catch: we know it can't be permanent. We know that all these characters will be back, somehow, some way. It robs the film of having as much impact as it should, but still, for most of the ride, Infinity War is captivating.

Special Features to Note:"Strange Alchemy" kicks off with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige talking about the idea of all the MCU characters teaming up for the first time in Infinity War. From there, the featurette goes on to have interviews with the cast (and the Russo Brothers) ruminating on the decisions were made to team-up certain characters. The Russos thought in terms of which team-ups would create the most spark, and that colored their decisions. "The Mad Titan" focuses on Thanos (Of course). "Thanos has been lurking in the shadows of our universe since Avengers," says Feige. The Russo Brothers talk about the Infinity Stones being hidden through the franchise. Josh Brolin talks about how complex Thanos is – how he thinks what he's doing is a positive thing. There's nothing very in-depth about the big purple menace here, but it's a breezy watch overall. Also included: four deleted scenes:"Happy Knows Best" has a few more moments of Tony and Pepper, before everything goes to hell. It's more quippy banter from Robert Downey Jr., and gives Gwyneth Paltrow a bit more to do. In the midst of their conversation, Happy Hogan shows up and complains about stuff. It's an amusing scene, but you can understand why it was cut."Hunt For the Mind Stone" has more of Scarlet Witch and Vision after they're first attacked by Thanos' gang, the Black Order. Since this scene was never completed for the film, the effects work on the Black Order is a bit wonky – they look like video game characters. The scene is tense but also briefly muted, with the Black Order staying very still momentarily as they try to locate where Scarlet Witch and Vision are hiding,"The Guardians Get Their Groove Back" is a deleted scene that's already been put online (watch it here!). It involves Peter Quill and Drax arguing with each other after Gamora has been captured Thanos, only to later find out that Nebula has sent them many, many warning messages. It's funny, and I wish it were still in the movie. "A Father's Choice" (which is available online here) offers us more scenes of Thanos and Gamora together. First we see a flashback of a younger Gamora (with a different haircut) conversing with Thanos, and seeming content to be working for him. But this is all a vision being conjured up by Thanos, and the present-day Gamora is unhappy and bickering with Thanos. Thanos attempts to explain why he's doing what he's doing, and why he adopted Gamora as his daughter.

Beyond this, there's your standard Marvel movie gag reel, which is just a montage of the actors making goofy faces and dancing around in between takes. There's also two featurettes that explore the many, many, many special effects that went into creating two big fight sequences – one on Titan, one in Wakanda. Overall, if you're a fan of Infinity War, this Blu is a must-own. But at the same time, since this is the biggest Marvel movie to date, you'd think there would be just a bit more, special features-wise. Oh well.

Special Features Include:

  • Strange Alchemy (5:08)– Share the thrill of characters from across the MCU meeting for the first time—and discover why some were teamed up together.
  • The Mad Titan (6:34) – Explore the MCU's biggest, baddest villain, his trail of influence through the stories, and the existential threat he represents.
  • Beyond the Battle: Titan (9:36) – Dive into the climactic struggle on Thanos' ruined world, including the epic stunts and VFX, to uncover the source of its power.
  • Beyond the Battle: Wakanda (10:58) – Go behind the scenes to find out how the filmmakers pulled off the most massive and challenging battle Marvel had ever attempted.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (10:07)
  • Happy Knows Best (1:23) – Tony and Pepper spar over the details of their upcoming wedding—until a hassled Happy Hogan pulls up with an urgent request.
  • Hunt for the Mind Stone (1:24) – On a darkened street, Wanda Maximoff and the wounded Vision attempt to hide from Thanos' brutal allies.
  • The Guardians Get Their Groove Back (3:20) – As Peter Quill and Drax quarrel over their failed mission to Knowhere, Mantis interrupts with news.
  • A Father's Choice (4:00) – Thanos confronts Gamora with a vision from her past—and with lying to him about the Soul Stone.
  • Gag Reel (2:05)– Watch your favorite Super Heroes make super gaffes in this lighthearted collection of on-set antics.
  • Audio Commentary (approx. 149 min.) by Anthony and Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
  • First Reformed

    (Available August 21) 

    The year isn't quite over yet, but as of now, in my humble opinion, First Reformed is the best movie of 2018. Writer-director Paul Schrader draws on his script from Taxi Driver, and also finds inspiration from Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest and Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light. But these are films of the past, and First Reformed is very much here in the present. It is a portrait of a world spiraling into chaos, and one man's attempt to make sense of it all – and failing.Ethan Hawke gives the performance of his career as a lonely, dying reverend in the midst of a crisis of faith. When one of Hawke's congregants (Amanda Seyfried) comes to help, asking for counsel for her troubled husband, Hawke is happy to help. But Hawke's words of faith do little to sway the husband, who is in the midst of his own crisis due to obsessing over climate change and the general terribleness of everything in the world right now. The man's troublesome thoughts are infectious, to the point where Hawke begins to develop them as well.While Seyfried is quite good here, and there are a few other noteworthy performances, First Reformed is essentially Hawke's one-man-show, and he doesn't disappoint. The actor plays his character's spiritual crisis to perfection, drawing us into his fractured, worried mind. The harsh, often cold delivery of Hawke's narration sells us on how untethered he's become, and we're helpless to do anything about it.First Reformed isn't flashy. It isn't a big, booming film. It's quiet, and haunting, and it plays hell with your emotional state. It lingers long after the credits have rolled. We'll be talking about this film for years.

    Special Features to Note:"Discernment" is a making-of featurette where director Paul Schrader discusses the origins of the film. Schrader talks about how he wrote spiritual films in the past, but never thought he'd direct one himself. Now, at the age of 70, he felt the time was finally right. Ethan Hawke is also interviewed, and says Schrader's script was one of the finest he had ever read. Schrader reflects on the "transcendental style" – "a spiritual state by means of austere camerawork, acting devoid of self-consciousness, and editing that avoids editorial comment" – which he previously highlighted in his book Transcendental Style in Film, and how he applied it to this project. Schrader also talks about how he didn't want to use music and emotions to "tell the audience how to feel", and how he attempted to "push a viewer back in order to bring him forward." That said, it should be noted that First Reformed does indeed use some music – although sparingly. Beyond this, Schrader is blunt when talking about the casting around Hawke: he cast actors that the financiers thought would help bring in audiences. He talks about how he had a list of actresses in mind for the female lead, and when he brought the list to the financiers, they told him to go with Amanda Seyfried. Seyfried in turn told Schrader she was pregnant at the time, which made him change the script to make her character pregnant. In the end, it all worked out. Seyfried gives a strong performance, and her character's impending pregnancy adds a whole extra layer to the film. 

    Special Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Paul Schrader
  • "Discernment: Contemplating First Reformed" Featurette
  • American Animals

    (Available August 28)

    The marketing for American Animals did the film a disservice. Trailers sold this as a wacky heist flick. But even though there is a heist at the center of the story, that's not really what this is. Instead, this film, from Imposter director Bart Layton, is more like a combination of The Social Network and Errol Morris' groundbreaking documentary The Thin Blue Line.The bulk of American Animals is a re-telling of the true story of a group of college students who banded together to steal some extremely rare, extremely valuable art books. Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, and Jared Abrahamson play the students, and each actor brings something worthwhile to their parts. Peters is excellent in particular as the most morally gray member of the team. We watch as the gang comes up with a somewhat ludicrous but plausible plan, and enact it.And while all this is unfolding, Larton also intercuts interviews with the actual college students who committed the heist as they reflect on their terrible decision. It's a fascinating approach to the material, and Larton has fun playing with perception. A scene will play out with certain details – a background figure will be wearing a scarf, for instance. Then, one of the real college students will interject that this isn't quite correct, and the scene will play out again, only this time without the figure in a scarf.While there's a darkly comedic bent to all of this, American Animals is not a comedy. It's ultimately incredibly dark, and rather disturbing. It's a portrait of disaffected, bored, privileged youth. I've seen some argue that by putting the real criminals on display here and essentially making them movie stars, Larton and company are glamorizing their crime. I won't say that criticism is invalid, but I think it's clear by the time the credits roll that Larton doesn't really have much sympathy for the culprits, and that he's not letting them off the hook for anything. He's merely pointing a camera in their direction, trying to figure out why they did what they did.

    Special Features to Note:There are four mini-featurettes – each running about a minute, total – with the main cast,  Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, and Jared Abrahamson, discussing their characters. It's slight stuff, where each actor is essentially just providing us with a synopsis of the film.There's also a two-minute deleted scene. It involves Peters and Keoghan's characters sitting in a car in a parking lot, both of them looking despondent and musing about their futures, or lack thereof. "You ever wonder how you ended up being born you, here, and not somewhere else?" Keoghan's character asks. "You ever feel like you're waiting for something to happen...but you don't know what it is?" Peters listens intently. It's an overly melancholy scene, and a relatively quiet, reflective moment. Perhaps too quiet and reflective for the final film.

    Special Features Include:

  • Featurettes
  • Still Gallery
  • Director and Cast Commentary
  • Deleted Scene