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‘Knives Out’ is one sharp murder mystery — with a surprising political edge

by Ace Damon
'Knives Out' is one sharp murder mystery — with a surprising political edge

New on Blu-ray

"Knives" (Lionsgate DVD, $ 29.95; Blu-ray, $ 39.99; 4K, $ 42.99; also available on VOD)

Director and screenwriter Rian Johnson and a cast of stars have taken a fun turn to an old-fashioned murder mystery in this smart, planned intelligence unit. Daniel Craig plays the elegant detective Benoit Blanc, called by an anonymous benefactor to investigate the suspected suicide of a successful novelist. Ana de Armas plays the dead writer's nurse, who knows more about the crime than she wants to share. There is a contagious sense of joy in the performances of Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon and Chris Evans, playing members of a tough clan that assumes that their inherited wealth makes them smarter than they are. The class-conscious comment adds a bit of a bite to a film that remains delightfully surprising from the first frame to the last.

(Special features: two comment tracks, deleted scenes and extensive behind-the-scenes features)

VOD

“The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” (available on February 26 on Netflix)

The documentary takes a disturbing look at the 2013 case of an 8-year-old boy from Los Angeles County who was tortured to death by his mother and boyfriend. The story prompted calls for radical changes in the Department of Child and Family Services, where overworked case workers and over-reliance on software-driven decisions seemed to allow some abused children to fall into the pit. The documentation alternates between a macro and a micro in this tragedy, explaining how diligent reporting helped expose a scandal in the local government, as well as arguing that threats to the most vulnerable in society are often treated as low priority.

TV set of the week

"Years and Years: The Limited Series" (HBO DVD, $ 24.99; also available on VOD)

Part of dystopian science fiction and part of contemporary domestic melodrama, this miniseries takes what's happening in the world today and extrapolates, making annoying predictions about what life in Britain will be like in the next decade. Emma Thompson plays a charismatic entrepreneur who becomes a populist policy, taking advantage of a global financial crisis, revolutionary technological advances and several violently destabilizing acts of war to consolidate power. This story, however, is mainly about an eclectic family, whose members face all the turmoil around them, living their lives in the best possible way, as crises accelerate.

(Special features: none)

From files

“Hot dog … The movie! Unrated producer cut "(Synapse Blu-ray, $ 29.95)

During the height of the teen sexual comedy of the 1980s, this animated film became a modest success. The 60's beach party movie update follows a group of rogue youngsters at a ski resort, where they compete on the slopes during the day and waste and play at night. The new producer's cut Blu-ray edition raises the bar for openness. Most importantly, it has a 4K restoration that makes the image as bright and colorful as it was in 1984. This was one of the most popular and entertaining examples of a disreputable genre, and it's nice to see it treated as the piece of history film that is.

(Special features: a commentary strip and a long featurette)

Three more to see

"Color Out of Space" (image DVD, $ 29.96; Blu-ray, $ 29.97; also available on VOD); “Frozen II” (Walt Disney DVD / Blu-ray, $ 24.96; also available on VOD); "Synonyms" (DVD by Kino Lorber, $ 29.95; Blu-ray, $ 34.95; also available on VOD)

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