New Blu-ray Releases Tenet

It’s time yet again to check in with the dwindling world of physical media. This week’s look at what’s new on Blu-ray includes Christopher Nolan‘s sci-fi action flick Tenet, David Cronenberg‘s subversive Crash, the creepy horror flick The Dark and the Wicked, and the curious horror-comedy The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Tenet

Tenet has come home. Christopher Nolan‘s latest sci-fi action epic made headlines for all the wrong reasons this summer as it became a kind of litmus test for the theatrical experience. Warner Bros. remained committed to releasing the film theatrically even though many movie theaters remained closed, and that built up a kind of resentment towards both the film and to Nolan. Now, Tenet is available to watch on Blu-ray, 4K, DVD, and digital for those who were unable or unwilling to check it out on the big screen.

So how does it stack up? Well, it’s one of Nolan’s weakest films. To be clear: the filmmaker stages some of the best and most jaw-dropping action set pieces since The Matrix here, but unfortunately the film they’re stuck in just can’t stack up. The muddled plot involves inversion, which is just a fancy way of saying time travel. Sort of. A mysterious Protagonist (John David Washington) gets pulled into a world of intrigue and mystery as he tries to prevent armageddon. None of it makes much sense – there’s even a scene where a character tells the Protagonist that he shouldn’t even bother trying to understand what the hell is going on (he should just “feel it” instead). Nolan can be a strong filmmaker, and I’ve enjoyed almost all of his movies before this. But Tenet is the film that Nolan’s detractors always accuse him of making – technically solid but emotionally empty.

Own or Rent? 

A tough one. I can’t say I enjoyed Tenet, and yet…I feel the urge to revisit it if only to marvel over the technical aspects. And while Christopher Nolan is a big proponent of the big screen, I can confirm that Tenet looks great at home, on a 4K TV. In fact, I was able to appreciate it even more on a slightly smaller screen, as sacrilegious as that may seem. But it’s a lot easier to take in the entire screen and see what Nolan is working with. In short, I’m going to say this should fall into the “own” category.

Special Features Include:

  • Looking at the World in a New Way: The Making of “Tenet” – An hour-long exploration of the development and production of the film as told by the cast and crew.

Crash

David Cronenberg’s cold, unflinching Crash is now part of the Criterion Collection. Based on the novel by J. G. Ballard, Crash follows a group of characters who are sexually aroused by car accidents, which is the type of movie only someone like Cronenberg could pull off successfully. James Spader plays a film producer who ends up in a head-on collision with another car. The crash kills a man, and, oddly enough, brings the dead man’s wife (Holly Hunter) closer to the doctor. From there, these characters journey down a dark road, along with Spader’s wife (Deborah Kara Unger) into a world where sexual pleasure can be found in the unlikeliest of places. At the center of all of this is a mysterious, messianic doctor, played brilliantly by Elias Koteas.

Cronenberg, master of body horror and one of the rare mainstream(ish) filmmakers who truly understands how to make subversive art, follows all of this with his unblinking eye, crafting sexual scenarios that are both arousing and horrifying. But this isn’t a film that’s shocking for the sake of being shocking – it has its own twisted, alluring philosophy, and we’re fully immersed in the strange world of these characters.

Own or Rent? 

Curiously enough, there are two new Crash Blu-rays – this one from Criterion, and another from Arrow Video. They have different special features (in fact the Arrow release has more than the Criterion release), but since I’m only focusing on the Criterion edition, I can’t comment on how much better or worse the Arrow release might be. What I can tell you is that if you’re a fan of Cronenberg’s work, and have been waiting for a domestic Blu-ray release of this film, you can’t go wrong with the Criterion edition.

Special Features Include:

  • New 4K digital restoration supervised by cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, and 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray, both approved by director David Cronenberg
  • Audio commentary from 1997 featuring Cronenberg
  • Press conference from the 1996 Cannes Film Festival featuring Cronenberg; Suschitzky; author J. G. Ballard; producers Robert Lantos and Jeremy Thomas; and actors Rosanna Arquette, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, James Spader, and Deborah Kara Unger
  • Q&A from 1996 with Cronenberg and Ballard at the National Film Theatre in London
  • Behind-the-scenes footage and press interviews from 1996
  • Trailers
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic Jessica Kiang

The Dark and the Wicked

Looking for one of the year’s best horror films? Or a horror film that went under-the-radar? Look no further than The Dark and the Wicked, a genuinely unnerving chiller from The Strangers director Bryan Bertino. Brother and sister Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr) return to their rural family farmhouse when their father gets sick and falls into a coma. Rather than be happy to have the support, their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) doesn’t seem to want them there at all. And her behavior is…abnormal, to say the least.

This is eventually leading to a story about possession, but Bertino wisely avoids giving in to the cliches that have become standard in the subgenre (cliches that are basically just things stolen from The Exorcist). Like The StrangersThe Dark and the Wicked is a slow burn, in the best possible way – you can feel the dread mounting with every moment, and the dark, shadow-filled cinematography is perfectly ominious.

Own or Rent? 

The Dark and the Wicked will eventually be streaming on Shudder, so if you’re not big on physical media, I suppose you could wait for that! Then again, if you’re not a physical media fan I don’t know why you’re reading this column. In any case, this should be a must-own for horror fans, who will cherish the atmosphere and scares on display here.

Special Features Include:

  • Fantasia Q&A with Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

There’s a killer on the loose in Snow Hollow – and it might not be human. Jim Cummings‘ curious, oddball horror-comedy The Wolf of Snow Hollow uses its genre set-up as a bit of a feint; this isn’t really a werewolf movie, it’s a character study that just happens to have a werewolf subplot in the background. That may not work for everyone, and Cummings is indeed trying to keep up a delicate balancing act.

Although “delicate” isn’t exactly the right word for Snow Hollow, which is a hectic, loud movie. Everyone here seems dialed-up to 11, particularly Cummings’ character, Officer John Marshall. A recovering alcoholic with anger issues, John’s investigation into a series of brutal murders seems to push him completely over the edge, to the point where he starts getting into physical fights with his fellow officers. The results can be a bit shrill, but Cummings’ script keeps churning along, and the editing – by Patrick Nelson Barnes and R. Brett Thomas – is sharp and snappy. Multiple scenes will often unfold at once, cutting back and forth between moments that happen at completely different times. It could’ve been jarring and distracting, but it works, and it works well.

Own or Rent? 

The Wolf of Snow Hollow might be too quirky for horror fans with limited tastes, and it’s probably too bloody for people looking for just a comedy. But those who want a little from column A and a little from column B are going to find a lot to like her. Suggestion: rent it first to see if this is your jam. if it is, great! Buy that disc, baby. If not, well, no harm no foul.

Special Features Include:

  • The Story and the Genre
  • The Impetus
  • Working with Jim Cummings
  • The Design of the Werewolf
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