DVD & Blue Ray

DVD Wrapup: Commuter, Oscar, A Taxi Driver, Humor Me, Prince, Doris Day, Shakespeare Wallah, Pomegranates and more

As high-concept pitches go, “Liam Neeson on a train” is right up there with “snakes on a plane” and “MTV cops.” What else would any screenwriter need to know to fill the blanks?

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The DVD Wrapup: Mohawk, Insidious IV, Proud Mary, Are We Not Cats, Fencer, Man From Earth, Mary Stark, Child in Time and more

I’d like to promote a gritty action adventure picture so small it didn’t even register a blip at Box Office Mojo. If Mohawk had been produced and released in the same general vicinity as Little Big Man, Soldier Blue, Black Robe or The Last of the Mohicans, writer-director Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) might have found a niche among fine revisionist Westerns. As it is, he can be proud of almost universal raves in Metacritic.com and kudos for showing a different side to Uncle Sam’s decades-long campaign to eradicate native Americans from their homes. Make no mistake: Mohawk is a genre film from start to finish. No one holds the high ground for very long.

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The DVD Wrapup: Last Jedi, Behind the Mask, Executioners, King of Jazz, Sacha Guitry, 1:54, Nicholas, Peyton Place and more

Whew. I’m exhausted just trying to summarize the first 20 minutes.

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The DVD Wrapup: Downsizing, Small Town Crime, Baal, The Church, Images, Daughter of the Nile, Ichi, ’Burbs… and more

Downsizing doesn’t get more involving than a final choice between survival and love, and the solution to that dilemma is preordained. The humor is mostly invested in the excellent visual effects, but, at a certain point, our eyes reflect the reality that these are normal-sized characters in a fabricated environment. The novelty of the conceit wears out by the time we reach the fjord, whose majesty isn’t amplified by the optical gag.

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The DVD Wrapup: I Tonya, Serpico, Assistant, Pastor Paul, Children of Corn, Starlight Ends, Birdboy, Sensitivity Training and more

If Nancy Kerrigan hadn’t been assaulted by members of Jeff Gillooly’s posse before the 1994 U.S. figure-skating championships, it’s likely the tabloid press would have invented a rivalry between Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, leading into the Lillehammer Winter Games. The perceived difference in their economic backgrounds would have been too tempting to avoid.

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The DVD Wrapup: Thor, Gintama, Novitiate, White Sun, Faces Places, Voyage, Paris Opera, Strangers, Moveable Feast and more

Comic books are said to have existed in America since the publication of the hardcover book, “The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck,” in 1842. Newspaper comic strips and panels became a phenomenon in New York at the end of the 1890s, with “The Katzenjammer Kids” and “The Yellow Kid.” It wasn’t until the 1930s that comics in the print and visual media came of age, with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s “Superman,” which opened the door for a legion of superheroes to come. It’s been something of roller-coaster ride for comic books, strips and movies, ever since. Anyone born since the advent of the digital age might think that studios have always been buoyed by the fortunes of their comic-book franchises. Until recently, though, they’ve been anything but a sure thing. Expensive to make and subject to the whims of fickle fan bases, comic-book movies now flourish commercially because of the extraordinary emergence of modern theaters in foreign markets and audiences hungry for CGI thrills. Unlike comics, storylines are incidental to a movie’s performance.

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The DVD Wrapup: Darkest Hour, Coco, Tom Jones, Basket Case, Hangman, Godard+Gorin, Hallelujah Trail, Tyrus … More

Oldman shines throughout, delivering inspirational oratory, displaying an unexpected sense of humor and the tenacity required to rally the nation in its, yes, darkest hour. The picture is further enhanced by key performances in supporting roles by Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane. Of six nominations, the other likely winner is in the Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling category.

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The DVD Wrapup: Florida Project, Daddy’s Home 2, The Hero, Thirsty and more

By setting his closely observed humanist drama, The Florida Project, within the shadow of Disney World, Sean Baker (Tangerine) describes how a community of homeless, underemployed and frequently lawless single parents has taken root on one of the commercial strips leading into Uncle Walt’s greatest fantasy.

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The DVD Wrapup: Ballad of Lefty Brown, Wonder, Blades, Seijun Suzuki, Fellini, Hellraiser, Paradise and more

Set in the desolate plains of Montana, before the arrival of the railroad, The Ballad of Lefty Brown is an ode to the traditional revenge Western. When famed frontier lawman and Montana’s first elected senator Eddie Johnson (Peter Fonda) is brutally murdered – assassinated, to be precise — his longtime sidekick and friend, Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman), vows to avenge his death. The trouble is, Lefty is more than a tad over the hill and he’s outgunned by some ornery desperadoes.

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The DVD Wrapup: Only the Brave, LBJ, Suburbicon, Aida’s Secrets, Clouzot’s Inferno, Jackie Gleason and more

Joseph Kosinski’s stunningly effective Only the Brave is the rare disaster movie guaranteed to leave its audiences not just in tears, but in mourning for the victims, their families and community at large, as well.

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The DVD Wrapup: Last Flag, Westfront 1918, My Art, Viva L’Italia, Gothic, Viva Espana and more

At first glance, the best reason for picking up Last Flag Flying are the names on the promotional material. The Amazon Studios production was directed by Richard Linklater (Boyhood), adapted from a novel by co-screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan (Cinderella Liberty) and stars Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne. (Good enough for me, anyway.) Last Flag Flying also got extremely positive reviews. But Linklater’s heartfelt story about whether honor and the bonds of brotherhood still matter, played in no more than 110 domestic theaters, earning  just under a million dollars before shipping off to ancillary markets, where money figures are kept close to a studio’s vest. When it was released, just ahead of Veterans Day, many pundits predicted Last Flag Flying might produce an Oscar nomination, or two, but it was ignored … not “snubbed,” ignored. That’s what happens when a picture underperforms in the marketplace for no good reason.

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The DVD Wrapup: In Search of Fellini, In Her Name, High School Sinks Into Sea, Jigsaw, Argento’s Opera, Red Trees and more

I can’t remember the last time I was so charmed by a movie that was dumped into limited release, received mixed reviews and could be lost in the shuffle of January releases that receive little fanfare. Maybe, though, I can help draw attention to In Search of Fellini if I point out the romantic fantasy’s “Simpsons” connection. (Everybody loves “The Simpsons.”) In Search of Fellini was adapted from a one-woman play co-written by Nancy Cartwright, who, since 1989, has been the voice of Bart Simpson on Fox’s trail-blazing animated series. Before that, however, the Ohio native joined an acting class taught by Milton Katselas. He recommended that she study Federico Fellini’s La Strada, which starred Giulietta Masina as the street urchin sold by her mother to circus strongman Zampano (Anthony Quinn) to be his comic foil. Cartwright recalls performing “every imaginable scene” from the movie in her class and spending several months trying to secure the rights to produce a stage adaptation. Like the protagonist in In Search of Fellini, she visited Italy with the intention of meeting Fellini and requesting his permission in person. Although she never met the Maestro, Cartwright kept a journal of the trip and later co-wrote the play upon which it was based.

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The DVD Wrapup: Matinee, Crooked House, Jawbone, Cook Off!, Blue World Order, Into the Amazon, Tuxedo Park and more

I wonder if kids today, are being prepped for the possibility of a nuclear strike. I haven’t read any reports of people stockpiling goods or hurriedly digging holes in their backyards for bomb shelters, as was the case during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s possible that Americans not only have convince themselves that cooler heads will prevail, as they did then, or they no longer can be conned into believing that ducking underneath a desk and covering their heads could protect anyone from becoming toast. Fifty-five years ago, however, that’s all the hope American school children were given. In Joe Dante’s wonderfully nostalgic Matinee, kids living in Key West, Florida – 90 miles from Cuba, where Soviet missiles were being pointed directly at them – were allowed to take a break from ducking-and-covering exercises long enough to enjoy a movie about a man who turns into a giant ant after a botched X-ray exam at the dentist.

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The DVD Wrapup: 68 Kill, Bad Day for the Cut, Friend Request, Tiger Hunter, CERN, Conduct!, Macon County Line and more

January is also prime time for studios to dump disappointments and question marks into theaters, before a fast turnaround on video. Occasionally, an overlooked gem will sneak into circulation – last year’s The Founder and Split, for example — but it won’t be because anyone saw it coming. I’ve found a few titles that fit that description.

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The DVD Wrapup: Chavela, Teacher, Shadowman, Shock Wave, Laugh-In and more

After getting sober, with the help of natural healing agents introduced to her by an Indian family that took her in, Vargas returned to the stage in 1991, performing at a bohemian Mexico City nightclub called “El Hábito.” Many fans of her recorded music, including Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, had assumed that she had succumbed years earlier. When he learned that Chavela was performing in Mexico, Almodóvar arranged for his personal muse to headline sold-out concerts in Madrid, Paris and New York’s Carnegie Hall. Although she had long dreamed of singing in such venues, her “overnight success” came late in her life. In her autobiography, Vargas also came out, which opened the door to a new demographic.

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The DVD Wrapup: The Year’s Top Titles, plus True Love Ways, Killing Gunther, Rock Docs, Unabomber and More

Titles that received a limited release in theaters or none at all make up my year-end list of DVDs and Blu-rays. Some are restored classics, while others are genre specimens that got lost in the crowd.

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The DVD Gift Guide 3: 100 Years Olympics Films, One Day at a Time, Monterey Pop, 4K UHD/HDR Action Editions, Coens, Nutcracker, Stronger, mother!, Leatherface… and more

If the Olympics could bounce back from two world wars, there’s no reason to think peace isn’t be possible in our time. “100 Years of Olympic Films” spans 41 editions of the Olympic Games, from 1912-2012, in 53 surprisingly comprehensive and impeccably restored movies.

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The DVD Wrapup: Trip to Spain, Lucky Goat, Viceroy House, Victoria & Abdul, Manolo and more

I wonder how much, if at all, estimable Brit director Michael Winterbottom was influenced by Louis Malle’s indie sensation My Dinner With Andre – or, for that matter, Andy Kaufman in My Breakfast with Blassie – before embarking on the first BBC mini-series, The Trip. In Malle’s film, quintessential New York City raconteurs Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory meet for dinner at a fancy restaurant to reconnect after one of them disappeared for a few years. The don’t particularly like each other, but they manage to share two hours in each other’s company, engaged in the lively art of conversation. Dinner was so convincing that many, many viewers assumed that their conversation played out in real time and was wholly improvised. In fact, it was scripted, rehearsed and shot in a chilly Virginia restaurant that was closed for the winter. It still holds up. In The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are asked by the Observer to tour the finest restaurants in the Lake District and document the experience. Their goofy exchanges, impersonations and kvetching only occasionally detract from the magnificent scenery.

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The DVD Wrapup: Letter From An Unknown Woman, Despicable Me 3, Crucifixion, Maurizio Cattelan, A New Leaf, Silent Night and more

Letter From an Unknown Woman is an old-fashioned Hollywood melodrama I might have watched for a few minutes on television long ago and abandoned in favor of a baseball game. Black-and-white films, no matter how opulent or romantic, never looked the way they were supposed to on television. Even when Laserdiscs and TCM came, analog sets couldn’t do justice to the director and cinematographer’s shared vision. Scratches were left in disrepair, just as fuzz and other artifacts clung to prints as if intended. The digital revolution made restoration miracles possible, transforming tired old movies into the classics they actually are. High-resolution screens made everything even better. Even so, I might not have accepted the challenge of watching Letter From an Unknown Woman – its title is as inviting as a warm beer or cold cup of coffee – if I hadn’t already seen the Criterion Collection editions of Max Ophüls’ La ronde, Le Plaisir, The Earrings of Madame de … and Lola Montès, all of which were made after he returned to Europe after World War II. After absorbing the lessons dispensed in the bonus features, it was easy to appreciate this widely admired film from his surprisingly unproductive Hollywood sojourn. Now, at least, I knew what to look for in the upgraded Olive Signature release.

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DVD Gift Guide II: Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Der Bingle, Hitchcock, Homicide, Agatha Christie, Jean Rouch, MST3K, Curtiz, Logan Lucky, Animal Factory, Woodshock and more

Because our grandparents and great-grandparents already seem to have everything they need, they get shorted when gifts are being handed out around the Christmas tree. The challenge of picking out presents grows greater every year, it seems. After all, how many sweaters, robes and slippers can a person possibly own? Why not give the gift that never gets older that it already is: nostalgia. No matter how many channels there are, the ones dedicated to shows seniors might recall with fondness are limited to TCM, PBS and niche services on premium networks.

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DVD & Blue Ray

Roy Atkinson on: DVD Wrapup: Commuter, Oscar, A Taxi Driver, Humor Me, Prince, Doris Day, Shakespeare Wallah, Pomegranates and more

gary j dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Ballad of Lefty Brown, Wonder, Blades, Seijun Suzuki, Fellini, Hellraiser, Paradise and more

Yvan Prime on: The DVD Wrapup: Ballad of Lefty Brown, Wonder, Blades, Seijun Suzuki, Fellini, Hellraiser, Paradise and more

Antoine Ratliff on: The DVD Wrapup: Letter From An Unknown Woman, Despicable Me 3, Crucifixion, Maurizio Cattelan, A New Leaf, Silent Night and more

Fernando on: The DVD Wrapup: King George, Cars 3, Overdrive, Afterimage, Glass Castle, Whisky Galore, The Journey, Into the Night, Sissi, Stay Hungry and more

Woody on: The DVD Wrapup: ET, Vietnam, Big Sick, Glory, Certain Women, The Hero, Hana-Bi, By the Time It Gets Dark, The Prison, The Flesh, Moderns … More

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Richard on: DVD Geek: Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice Ultimate

Ray Pride on: The DVD Wrapup: Founder, Punching Henry, Paris 05:59, Apocalypse Child, Donnie Darko, Woman of the Year, Tampopo, Handmaid’s Tale and more

RAY WEIKEL on: The DVD Wrapup: Founder, Punching Henry, Paris 05:59, Apocalypse Child, Donnie Darko, Woman of the Year, Tampopo, Handmaid’s Tale and more

Quote Unquotesee all »

“If there are theories about me, I’d rather not know. Astrophysics – now that’s fascinating. String theory, worm holes, the expanding universe, the Big Bang versus the Big Bounce – those are the kind of theories that make you feel like living and understanding the mystery of the world. Film theory is just a pain in the ass.”
~ Claire Denis

“I had a knockoff Michael Kors bag that said MLK instead of MK. Jada told me that I shouldn’t have knockoff stuff. I told her that my philosophy is, Whatever the bag costs, I should be able to keep that amount of cash in the bag. If it’s a $300 purse, I have to put $300 in cash in that purse. I do not want a bag that is more expensive than the cash I have to put in it. Things are going good for me now, so I am graduating to your Fendis and your Guccis. But I better have the cash equivalent, or I’m not buying the purse. And if things start to go wrong, I’m going right back to my knockoffs. When you’re somebody like me, who’s been homeless, clothes are not that important. Clothes are not a roof over my head, food in my ­stomach, my family’s health—that’s what money is for. But fashion helps get more money. So, we ride.”
~ Tiffany Haddish