New Blu-ray Releases Red Sparrow

(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.)

It’s time again to round-up the best Blu-rays available right now, and in the immediate future. This week, we have the Jennifer Lawrence spy-thriller Red Sparrow, the very funny Game Night, the surprisingly good horror-sequel Strangers: Prey At Night, and the so-dumb-it’s-fun action flick The Hurricane Heist.

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

Red Sparrow

How can a film this sadistic, and this sleazy, be so…dull? Francis Lawrence directs Jennifer Lawrence in this unpleasant spy-thriller – the type of film that an expert in subversiveness like Paul Verhoeven could’ve done something brilliant with, perhaps. Alas, Francis Lawrence is no Verhoeven, and as a result, Red Sparrow feels stagnant.

Jennifer Lawrence deserves credit for challenging herself, but between this and the much-better mother!, she might want to try out a light comedy for a change, instead of spending two-plus hours getting the crap kicked out of her on screen. Lawrence plays a Russian ballerina who gets recruited into the spy trade. You might think this will result in a film that turns Lawrence into a take-no-prisoners ass-kicker, like Atomic Blonde. Incorrect! Instead, Lawrence spends the bulk of this movie being brutalized – sexually assaulted, tortured, threatened, and even leered at by her creepy, incestuous uncle. It makes for a nasty film.

There’s nothing wrong with a film being nasty, mind you. But such grungy subject matter needs a steady hand, and director Francis Lawrence doesn’t quite have that. To his credit, Lawrence takes care to make sure the many sexually-tinged scenes in the film aren’t overly titaliing, so it never feels like Jennifer Lawrence is being exploited. But in some ways, this also creates a cold disconnect that makes everything seem even more disagreeable. It’s all too sterile; too lifeless.

Still, in an age of constant comic book franchises and other sequels, Red Sparrow stands apart as a singular, adult-driven film. It’s just a pity it’s not very good.

Special Features to Note:

The Red Sparrow Blu-ray release comes loaded with plenty of features all about the making of the film. A feature dubbed “New Cold War” serves as an overview, focused on the production of the film, and how it came to be. Director Francis Lawrence says he fell in love with the book that inspired Red Sparrow “immediately”, revealing that what he really loved was the authenticity that the book presented. This authenticity is due to the fact that author Jason Matthews worked for the CIA for decades before writing the book.

Beyond this, there’s a feature on the cast. It’s revealed here that the project was first brought to Jennifer Lawrence’s attention when she was only 20, and the film didn’t get made until she was 27 – in other words, Lawrence stuck with this for a long time. There’s also a lot of talk here about how the film’s subject matter pushed Lawrence to new limits.

There’s a feature on “Visual Authenticity”, devoted to the shooting locations, and director Francis Lawrence’s attempt to give the film scale by shooting on wide anamorphic lenses. At the same time, Lawrence wanted to ground the film as a more personal story. Whether or not he succeed is up to you to decide.

On top of all this, there are 10 deleted scenes. We got a shot of co-star Joel Edgerton running through an underground tunnel, which Francis Lawrence says he cut for energy; a pre-main-title scene where Jennifer Lawrence’s sleazy uncle goes to Edgerton’s apartment to snoop around; a scene where Jennifer Lawrence gets fired from the Bolshoi ballet, which director Francis Lawrence cut because Lawrence ultimately felt they didn’t need it, since it’s established later that Lawrence has been fired. And so on. Many of these deleted scenes are quick – some are even less than a minute long. The recurring theme from Francis Lawrence’s commentary on these deleted scenes is that they were cut for pacing, and because they didn’t add much to the film overall. So it goes.

Special Features Include:

  • A New Cold War: Origination and Adaptation
  • Agents Provocateurs: The Ensemble Cast
  • Tradecraft: Visual Authenticity
  • Heart of the Tempest: On Location
  • Welcome to Sparrow School: Ballet and Stunts
  • A Puzzle of Need: Post-Production
  • Director Commentary by Francis Lawrence
  • 10 Deleted Scenes (With Optional Commentary by Francis Lawrence)

Game Night

Never judge a comedy by its trailers. I thought the trailers for Game Night were a bit blah, so I skipped the film in theaters. Yet I heard from countless colleagues that the film was a genuine delight, so I was eager to check it out on Blu-ray. I’m pleased to report the hype was warranted. Game Night is one of the best studio comedies in years.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play a couple who host an ongoing game night with their friends (Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury), but the usually benign get-together turns dangerous when Bateman’s brother (Kyle Chandler) gets everyone mixed-up in something illegal. What follows is a clever, funny and surprisingly well-directed comedy that owes more than a few things to David Fincher’s The Game.

The twists are fun, but the real treat here is both the direction – at one point, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein stage a lengthy action sequence designed to look like one continuous shot, and it’s incredible – and the charming performances. Everyone is great here, particularly Jesse Plemons playing a creepy neighbor. But the film really belongs to Rachel McAdams, who is consistently hilarious in this film, so much so that it started to make me angry she’s not leading more comedies. Put Rachel McAdams in more movies, gosh darn it. I beg of you.

Special Features to Note:

Yeesh, what a paltry release this is. Game Night is one of the best studio comedies of the last five years, but you wouldn’t know it from the features here. There are two: a three-minute long “making of” featurette that consists primarily of the likable cast sitting around yucking it up, talking about how much fun they had making the film.

Then there’s an amusing gag reel, that confirms that the set of this movie probably was a blast to work on. But there should be more here. Game Night has a clever script, and surprisingly fantastic filmmaking – that “one-take” scene is an all-timer. It’s unfortunate that there apparently wasn’t enough interest to include more in-depth featurettes on this release.

Special Features Include:

  • Gag Reel
  • An Unforgettable Evening: Making Game Night

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