New Blu-Ray Releases: 'Creed II', 'The Favourite', 'The Craft', 'Burning', 'Skinner', 'The Standoff At Sparrow Creek', 'Between Worlds'

Last month, Samsung announced they would no longer produce Blu-ray players. It gave physical media fans – like me, and presumably you, if you're reading this column – pause. The reasoning could be because Samsung's 4K technology has been subpar in compared to others. Or it could spell the beginning of the end – a sign that Blu-ray will soon go the way of VHS. It's not a pleasant thought. For now, Blu-ray is here, and I can only hope it's here to stay. For now, let's treasure it while it's still around. And what better way to do that than by reading a few thousand words I've cobbled together on the latest new releases? These are the new Blu-ray releases and their special features you should check out this week and beyond.

Creed II

Creed II doesn't pack as much of a punch as the first Creed (see what I did there?), but the electric cast once again keeps you energized. Michael B. Jordan reminds us once again that he's a damn good movie star as he returns to the role of Adonis Creed, and now that Tessa Thompson is (rightfully) more famous, her role has been expanded greatly. Sylvester Stallone continues to do the best acting of his career playing the older, slower, sadder Rocky. In this sequel, Adonis decides to step into the ring to fight Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of old Rocky opponent Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Adonis has severely bad blood with the Dragos, since Ivan killed Adonis' father Apollo in the ring. I can't say I'm a fan of this borderline revenge plot, but everyone here sells it well. The Dragos, and their relationship, could've easily fallen into generic bad guy territory, but there's an actual emotional through-line that pays off. Steven Caple Jr.'s direction can't match that of Ryan Coogler's, but that's not to say it's lackluster, either. In short, almost everything here is good – but not as good as the first Creed.

Special Features to Note:A handful of quick featurettes tackle different elements of the story. "Fathers and Sons" finds director Steven Caple Jr. saying family is what drives the picture, while Sylvester Stallone even calls it Shakespearian. "Finding Viktor Drago" covers the search to find the actor to play Drago's son. Stallone says they went through "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds" of guys before they found Florian Munteanu – he was perfect because he really knows how to fight, and of course, he's huge. "The Women of Creed II" delves into how the filmmakers wanted to make sure Adonis and Tessa Thompson's Bianca were portrayed as an actual team, and not have Bianca just be someone waiting off to the side.  "The Rocky Legacy" is hosted by Dolph Lundgren, and talks about – what else – the legacy of the franchise, and how the series tells stories of underdogs, determination, and family, and how the franchise as a whole inspires people.There are also some deleted scenes, two of which are noteworthy. One finds Rocky giving a eulogy at a funeral for Spider Rico, the first opponent Rocky fought in the first Rocky. This scene reveals how Rocky found out about the secret boxing training facility in the desert where Rocky and Adonis go near the climax of the film, as that's where Spider learned to fight. The other deleted scene is a from the end of the movie, in which Adonis meets first with Vikor, and then with Ivan, in the locker room. It's a quiet but emotional moment, and I'm surprised it was cut, as it provides some extra closure. 

Special Features Include:

  • From Father to Son, Blood Runs Hot
  • Finding Viktor Drago
  • The Women of "Creed II"
  • The Rocky Legacy
  • Deleted Scenes
  • The Favourite

    The Favourite is one of the very best films of last year, and I was thrilled to see Olivia Colman pick up a Best Actress Oscar for her dynamite work here as Queen Anne. Based (loosely) on a true story, The Favourite is like Barry Lyndon by way of The Devil Wears Prada. In 1708, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) has great influence over her life-long friend (and secret lover), Queen Anne. Things change, though, when Sarah's cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) shows up in court, and begins scheming to win Anne's favor. This sets off a series of darkly hilarious, often absurdist, events, handled magnificently by the three main actresses. I haven't much cared for Yorgos Lanthimos' previous films (The LobsterThe Killing of a Sacred Deer), but I absolutely adored The Favourite from beginning to end. It was as if Lanthimos had at last found the perfect material for his specific set of skills.

    Special Features to Note:A behind-the-scenes documentary goes into the production, and focuses primarily on how Yorgos Lanthimos and co-writer Tony McNamara wanted to turn the costume/period drama on its head, and do something fresh with it. The goal was to make a period film that also reflects on our times, which meant the filmmakers had to take liberties with history. "History can slow you down," says McNamara. "We didn't want to tell the history, we wanted to tell the story of these three women." 

    There's much talk here about how unusual Lanthimos' process is. He doesn't talk much with his actors, and doesn't like when they ask him questions (which makes him sound like kind of a jerk, but Emma Stone is quick to point out he's not at all). He also likes to go for shots that seem strange and unusual, and maybe even incorrect, when setting them up. It works!

    Special Features Include:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • The Favourite: Unstitching the Costume Drama
  • The Craft

    Andrew Fleming's 1996 witch-flick The Craft gets the loving treatment it deserves thanks to Scream! Factory. The story concerns Sarah (Robin Tunney), who moves to a new town, attends a new school, and quickly falls in with a coven of teen witches. There's the shy Bonnie (Neve Campbell), who is covered with burn scars. There's Rochelle (Rachel True), who is often the brunt of racist attacks from bullies at school. And there's Nancy (Fairuza Balk), who is the leader and probably crazy. The witches develop their powers, but of course, they have to pay a dark price. It makes for a cracking good '90s horror film, with Balk stealing the show as the absolutely batshit insane Nancy. Hollywood has been trying to get a remake of The Craft off the ground for a while now, and I personally hope it never happens, because it would end up being too serious; too self-aware. There's a specialness to the original; an innocence, even.

    Special Features to Note:In an interview with Andrew Fleming, the director says he wasn't in the mood to do another horror movie right before The Craft came to him, but when he was hired to re-write the script, he fell in love with the material. Fleming set about putting his own personal life-experiences into the story, and wanted to make sure The Craft avoided the cliches of witch movies that came before it. Original writer Peter Filardi was coming of Flatliners when he was asked by producer Douglas Wick to write the script. Filardi thought the characters would have to be disenfranchised, and underclass. He also based on Aristotle's four elements – Sarah is earth, Bonnie is wind, Rochelle is water, Nancy is fire. The special features aren't exactly in-depth, but it's great to have this film on Blu-ray. 

    Special Features Include: 

  • NEW Directing The Craft – An Interview With Co-writer And Director Andrew Fleming
  • NEW Producing The Craft – An Interview With Producer Douglas Wick
  • NEW Writing The Craft – An Interview With Co-writer Peter Filardi
  • NEW Effecting The Craft – An Interview With Makeup Effects Supervisor Tony Gardner
  • Audio Commentary With Director Andrew Fleming
  • Vintage Featurette – Conjuring The Craft
  • Vintage Featurette – The Making Of The Craft
  • Deleted Scenes With Optional Audio Commentary
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Burning

    Lee Chang-dong's hypnotic, enticing, mysterious Burning lingers with you long after its 148 minutes have ended. It's a haunting film, and gorgeously shot and composed by the South Korean filmmaker. Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) wants to be a writer – but he never does much writing. One day, he randomly crosses paths with  Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a girl he grew up with. The two begin a kind of casual relationship, although it's clear Jong-su wants something more serious. Hae-mi goes to Africa on a trip, and returns with a new boyfriend – the handsome, mysterious Ben (Steven Yeun). Most people think Ben is quite charming, but Jong-su gets some seriously creepy vibes from the man – or is it just jealousy? Yeun's performance is the highlight here, giving without a doubt the best performance of his career, and proving yet again that he needs to be a bigger star.

    Special Features to Note:Only one brief featurette here, in which the cast talks about the approach to their characters. It's fine, but I wanted more. Jeon Jong-seo mentions that she has a lot in common with her character, and that she tried to be as sincere as possible in playing the role. Steven Yuen says when he red the script, he "definitely knew who this person is" in regards to his character, and that his biggest worry is that he'd never have an experience like this again. Hey, Criterion – maybe in a few years you can put out a better Blu-ray version of this great movie? (That's not to say you should skip this one – get it!)

    Special Features Include: 

  • About the Characters
  • Skinner

    Trashy, sleazy, and downright questionable, Skinner is the pinnacle of garbage cinema – and I mean that as a compliment. This nasty, clumsy (you can literally see a crew member standing in one scene) horror film stars Ted Raimi as Dennis Skinner – a serial killer who, you guessed it, skins women. He also creates skin-costumes out of the skins, just like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, and real-life killer Ed Gein. Sound disgusting? It is. Skinner rents a room in a home owned by frustrated housewife Ricki Lake, all while Traci Lords, playing the sister of one of his victims, tries to track him down. If you have no stomach for this kind of unredeemable trash (again, a compliment!), stay far the hell away from Skinner. But if you crave gory movies lit in blue and red light, with budgets so cheap the sets are practically falling down, then you must pick up this gloriously restored, uncut release from Severin Films.

    Special Features to Note:An interview with director Ivan Nagy talks not just about Skinner, but about his entire life, from how he fled Hungary after the revolution, to how he became a filmmaker. Having known absolutely nothing about Nagy, this was fascinating to watch, although a bit long-winded at times. Ted Raimi is also on hand to talk about his career. He details how he took a "normal" role once, and found it incredibly boring, and only wanted to do off-beat roles from then on – roles like Dennis Skinner. Raimi reveals that the script originally wasn't gory at all, but as the film progressed, it became more and more gory. Thanks, Skinner

    Special Features Include: 

  • A Touch of Scandal: Interview with Director Ivan Nagy
  • Under His Skin: Interview with Star Ted Raimi
  • Bargain Bin VHS For A Buck: Interview with Screenwriter Paul Hart-Wilden
  • Cutting Skinner: Interview with Editor Jeremy Kasten
  • Flaying Sequence Out-takes & Extended Takes
  • Trailer
  • The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

    Economic filmmaking at its finest. With only a small handful of actors, and one location, writer-director Henry Dunham turns The Standoff at Sparrow Creek into an almost unbearably tense exercise in character building, mystery solving, and more. The story concerns a militia who panic after they learn of a mass-shooting at a police officer's funeral. One of the guns from their armory is missing, which means one of them did the deed. Gannon (James Badge Dale), an ex-cop turned loner, is tasked with trying to find out who did it, becoming a kind of militant Hercule Poirot in the process. This is one of those indie films that knocks you on your ass, and reminds you that there are truly gifted filmmakers out there who can do so much with so little.

    Special Features to Note:A making of featurette has writer-director Henry Dunham revealing the origin of the film: he began thinking about just dropping off the grid one day, and began to think of a character who wanted to be alone and check out of everything – the character that would become Gannon. Of course, this character soon learns a painful lesson in the end we need human connection, even if it hurts us. In the midst of this featurette, we get a hilarious montage of literally every single actor in the film saying some variation of "Henry knows exactly what he wants." Side-note: do not watch this featurette before you watch the movie, as it gives away some big secrets. 

    Special Features Include:

  • The Making Of The Standoff at Sparrow Creek
  • Photo Gallery
  • Between Worlds

    Hoo-boy, just what the hell is this movie? At this point in his career, it's become kind of a cliche to point out that Nicolas Cage gives crazy performances in crazy movies. But Between Worlds is indeed crazy. This could've been a straightforward supernatural thriller, but instead, it becomes a kind of redneck fever-dream. Cage plays Joe, a dirtbag trucker who saves a woman (Franka Potente) from being choked to death in the bathroom. But Potente's character quickly admonishes him, because she actually asked to be choked into unconsciousness. The reasoning: doing so would enable her to communicate with her teenage daughter Billie (Penelope Mitchell), who is in a coma after an accident. Billie soon wakes up, Joe moves in with the family, and that's when things go fucking nuts. Billie claims she's not Billie anymore. She is, in fact, Joe's dead wife, possessing Billie's body. Joe and Billy begin having an affair, which is probably a bad idea, since they're doing it in the same house where Potente's character lives. How wacko is Between Worlds? Let me just say this: there's a scene where Joe and Billie character are having sex, and Cage picks up a book of poetry written by Nicolas Cage – the real Nicolas Cage, not Cage's character – and begins reading it out loud.

    Special Features to Note:Not a single special feature. But hey, this movie is special enough as it is.