new Blu-ray releases a wrinkle in time

(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.)

Hello once again, physical media phans. It’s time to round-up some of the best Blu-rays currently available for your viewing pleasure. This week we have Ava DuVernay‘s inventive Disney film A Wrinkle In Time, the emotional coming-of-age dramadey Love, Simon, the darkly hilarious The Death of Stalin, Alicia Vikander‘s Tomb Raider reboot, and Bruce Willis Death Wish remake. 

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

A Wrinkle In Time

I so very much wanted to love A Wrinkle In Time. Director Ava DuVernay is immensely gifted, and in a short period of time has proven herself to be a filmmaker worth paying attention to. For her adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle‘s novel, DuVernay assembled a dynamite cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña and Chris Pine. With all of this in mind, A Wrinkle In Time should’ve been a home run.

And yet…

Look, Wrinkle is a film with the very best intentions. On top of that, it’s an inventive, ambitious movie. With that in mind, I can’t write the film off entirely. But so much of this film just doesn’t work. Not only does it not work, it doesn’t work in spectacular ways. Nothing in Wrinkle feels finalized – you get the sense that you’re watching a first draft; something that hasn’t been hammered out and made more coherent. It’s frustrating, and it wears you down.

Young actress Storm Reid is quite good as Meg, a middle-school kid who has fallen on hard times following the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine). Meg lives with her mother (a tragically underused Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her adoptive brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), who is one of those painfully annoying precious movie kids that really gets under your skin (also, characters constantly refer to him as Charles Wallace, not just Charles, and it’s maddening). One day, Meg gets drawn into a universe-jumping adventure when she’s recruited by three strange, magical women – Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling. All this sounds like it could be fun, right? It’s not.

There are things to like about this film. The movie is full of scenes with positive messages, particularly aimed at young girls. That’s important, and a much-needed thing in mainstream movies. And a lot of the world building here is unique and admirably strange. Yet Wrinkle In Time never quite gels. But you may still be drawn to it, and I have a feeling that despite my opinion on the movie, this is going to be one of those anomalies that gets rediscovered in a few years and heralded as a misunderstood classic.

Special Features To Note:

“A Journey Through Time” is your standard making-of feature. Everyone here is super positive, and seems genuinely warm and wonderful. It’s clear that making this movie was a lot of fun, and the mood on the set must’ve been great.

DuVernay says the story is like “a beautiful stew of delicious ingredients: social commentary, science, spirituality, romance, adventure…it’s an epic journey that really attracted me as a filmmaker.”

Throughout the making-of feature, we learn how DuVernay pushed for a diverse cast, and how she worked to bring L’Engle’s noivel into the 21st century. I ended up enjoying the making-of feature more than the film itself – it’s energizing to watch all these talented people work, even if the end result wasn’t quite as good as it should’ve been.

There are a string of deleted scenes, one of which gives Gugu Mbatha-Raw a bit more to do, which really should’ve made it into the movie simply so the film would have more of her. In the scene, Mbatha-Raw’s character attempts to explain what a tesseract is. There’s also a somewhat unnerving deleted scene called “Paper Girl”, in which the main characters encounter a cruel otherworldly girl who hurls insults at them.

Special Features:

  • A Journey Through Time – Take an up-close look at the making of this magnificent movie with Director Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey, and the cast and crew.
  • Deleted Scenes (with optional director audio commentary)
    • Ant on a String
    • Aunt Beast
    • Meg Learns About Calvin’s Dad
    • Papergirl
  • Audio Commentary
    • Director Ava DuVernay
    • Producer Jim Whitaker
    • Co-Screenwriter Jennifer Lee
    • Production designer Naomi Shohan
    • First assistant director Michael Moore
    • Editor Spencer Averick
    • VFX supervisor Rich McBride
  • Bloopers
  • Original Songs/Music Videos
    • “I Believe” performed by DJ Khaled featuring Demi Lovato
    • Warrior” performed by Chloe x Halle


Love, Simon

Is Love, Simon a bit too simplistic? Sure. Does it settle its conflict a bit too neatly, and easily? Yes. Is that okay? It sure is, because Greg Berlanti‘s adaptation of Becky Albertalli‘s YA book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is so earnest, and so emotionally honest, that you can forgive some of the film’s lesser qualities. At the start of the film, Simon (Nick Robinson) tells us he has “a perfectly normal life, except one huge-ass secret.” That secret? He’s gay, and he’s yet to come out to his friends and family. 

One day, a mystery student at Simon’s high school posts on the school’s main message board that he’s gay. Simon begins a correspondence with this student, and the two develop a semi-You’ve Got Mail internet romance. But of course, neither knows who the other is. For its first hour, Love, Simon plays out like your standard teen rom-com, except that it’s about a gay teen – which hasn’t happened before in a studio picture like this. Then, at the hour mark, the film transforms into something else, and this is where Love, Simon truly begins to shine. Simon is outed by a fellow classmate, and his whole world changes.

You can probably guess where this is all ultimately going as you watch Love, Simon. Yes, Simon’s relationship with his friends will survive. And yes, Simon’s parents – played affably by Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner – will accept him. And yes, Simon will eventually find out who the mystery student is. But the predictability doesn’t really diminish the film, mostly because it’s hard not to get swept up in this story, and the performers. Robinson makes for a charming lead, and the actors playing his friends are all amusing in their own unique ways. Duhamel and Garner are mostly relegated to the sidelines, but each of the two actors gets their own to shine in heart-to-heart scenes with Robinson (I dare you not to cry during these scenes; I’m pretty sure not crying as these moments unfold is scientifically impossible).

Ultimately, Love, Simon‘s message of acceptance is too damn powerful to resist. The direction from Berlanti isn’t anything to write home about, and this film probably won’t end up on many top 10 lists come the end of the year. But if Love, Simon changes the hearts and minds of at least one person somewhere, or speaks to someone who needed to hear the film’s message, then hell, it was worth it.

Special Features To Note:

A feature focused on adapting the book has director Berlanti describing the appeal of the narrative: it’s a traditional coming of age story, and yet it’s not, because there hasn’t been a major studio movie about a gay coming of age story. The producers reflect on a certain amount of pressure in creating this film, simply because they’re “putting something there that wasn’t there before”, and they wanted to get things right. Beyond this, everyone here has nothing but nice things to say about the book. Author Becky Albertalli in turn says she never even thought the book would become a film. Part of this has to do with the book’s structure – it’s half traditional narrative, half emails, so the filmmakers had to find a way to make the frequent internet-based scenes cinematic. 

Other features include a look at the likable cast of the film, with particular attention paid to star Nick Robinson and how perfect he was for the lead role. Then there’s not one, but two different mini-featurettes about shooting the film on location in Georgia. It’s a bit touristy, but if you’re from Georgia (specifically Atlanta), you might get a kick out of this. There’s also two deleted scenes, both featuring Simon interacting with his friends, neither of which adds a whole lot to the finished film.

Special Features:

  • Deleted Scenes

    • “The Adaptation” – Learn how the touching book Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli was adapted into Love, Simon
    • “The Squad” – Love, Simon’s cast members are some serious #squadgoals. Take a look into how the filmmakers developed, casted and perfected Simon’s squad
  • “#FirstLoveStoryContest” – Everyone deserves a great first love story! Watch one lucky fan tell audiences about their first love story.
  • “Dear Georgia” – Join the filmmakers as they show you the iconic filming locations in Atlanta.
  • “Dear Atlanta” – The book takes place in Atlanta and the film was also shot there! Learn the many reasons why production chose this great city!
  • Gallery
  • Audio Commentary by Director Greg Berlanti, Producer Isaac Klausner and Co-Screenwriter Issac Aptaker


The Death Of Stalin

One of the best films of 2018 comes courtesy of Veep creator Armando Iannucci. That film is The Death of Stalin, and in it, Iannucci works his own particular brand of satirical genius to somehow turn the events of the Great Terror into comedy. This shouldn’t work…and yet, it does. Iannucci blends bleak darkness with hysterical humor to tell the story of the mad grab for power of the Soviet Union after Stalin dies. Scheming, manipulation and pratfalls abound, and as all the hilarity unfolds on screen, a brutality lurks just out of frame, biding its time before coming out in full force during the film’s shocking final moments.

This is such a strange film that I wouldn’t be surprised if many people don’t take to it. Some may be confused by the jarring tone, and the violence and viciousness that occasionally bursts out may turn many viewers off entirely. But those who are on board with Iannucci’s lightning-fast mix of quips and tricks are going to be in for a treat. In a cast full of gifted performers, Steve Buscemi might be the stand out, giving arguably the best performance of his already acclaimed career as Nikita Khrushchev. Buscemi is matched by Simon Russell Beale as the brutal, downright evil (and yet somehow funny!) Lavrentiy Beria.

But really, everyone is great here. As I said in my original theatrical review, “The Death of Stalin piles on a cast of memorable, laugh-out-loud funny characters: there’s Stalin’s drunken, violent son (Rupert Friend) and grieving, scowling daughter (Andrea Riseborough); Michael Palin as a politician more than happy to declare his innocent wife a traitor for the good of the country; and Jason Isaacs as a general who knows how to make an entrance. All of these characters bounce off each other, verbally and sometimes even physically, in ways that will be familiar to anyone who has seen In the Loop or Veep.”

Special Features To Note: 

First and foremost, I have to issue a complaint: as of now, The Death of Stalin is only receiving a DVD release in the U.S. If you want to own the film on Blu-ray, you’ll have to import it from the U.K. I’m not sure why this decision was made, but that’s the way it is. Perhaps a more memorable Blu-ray will find its way to America sooner or later (make it happen, Criterion).

For now, we’ll have to make due with the DVD. There are only two features included here. One is a series of deleted scenes, which add even more jokes to a film that’s pretty much brimming with non-stop jokes. These deleted moments sometimes are less than a minute long, and illustrate the rapid-fire, never-ending nature of the script, and the improv skills of the actors. I don’t know if this deleted moments would make the movie even better had they been included in the final film, and it’s likely Iannucci cut them for pacing. Still, it’s good to have them gathered together in one place.

The other feature is about the making of the film, and it’s shockingly dry. The film is constantly on fire, always moving, and maybe it just wore everyone involved out, because the cast and crew interviewed here are extremely low-energy. The feature mostly involves the cast describing which characters they’re playing and what the film is about. The insightful moments from from Iannucci, who talks about the inspirations and ideas behind creating the film. He told his actors to play things straight, and let the satire come out. He also talks about the inevitable comparison between Stalin’s bumbling regime in the film and the Trump administration, saying he was “quite consciously looking to do something about dictatorship” and about how a country can be terrorized by a personality. 

Special Features:

  • Dictators, Murders and Comrades…Oh My!
  • Deleted Scenes

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