I’m sure that Fox and Starz didn’t coordinate their movies intentionally, but releasing a couple of this year’s Oscar contenders on Blu-ray the same day allows me to use the above headline. I thank both studios for that.
‘Hidden Figures‘ – ‘St. Vincent’ director Theodore Melfi quickly shot up into the big leagues with a feel-good inspirational drama about the untold role that a group of black women played in the 1960s American space program. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and singer Janelle Monáe headline the cast, with support from Mahershala Ali and (as the stuffy white guy in charge) Kevin Costner. The trailers kind of looked like “The Help Goes to NASA,” which may be terribly reductive but may not be entirely inaccurate. Reviews were mostly positive, though many knocked the film’s simplicity and adherence to formula. Nevertheless, it hit at a key moment when our world really needed a crowd-pleaser with a positive message about race relations. It proved to be a big box office hit and was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture. The movie is the only of this week’s titles to get a 4k Ultra HD release as well.
‘Lion‘ – It’s the unofficial ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ sequel the world didn’t know it needed, and also a really canny bit of Google product placement. A five-year-old Indian boy is separated from his older brother and accidentally rides a train thousands of miles from home, where he’s deposited into the middle of an uncaring world with no way to find his way back to his family. Fortunately, he’s adopted by a kindly Australian couple and grows up to have a pretty good life. As an adult (now played by Dev Patel), he scours Google Earth until he sees some landmarks he recognizes, leading to an emotional reunion. The true story this is based on is pretty harrowing stuff, primed by producer Harvey Weinstein into a polished bit of Oscar bait. Fortunately, most accounts say that it’s a pretty good piece of Oscar bait.
‘Toni Erdmann‘ – Of all the improbable success stories of 2016, a nearly three-hour German comedy about a harried businesswoman and her practical-joking father took the film festival world by storm and was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar. Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig are currently attached to do an American remake, which will probably be half the length and (I’m guessing) nowhere near as acclaimed.
‘Monster Trucks‘ – Pro Tip: A 4-year-old shouldn’t be allowed to develop a studio tentpole movie. You’d think that would go without saying, but former Paramount president Adam Goodman spent $125 million of his studio’s money to prove the point. He allowed his young son to pitch him a movie idea about trucks possessed by monsters – thereby becoming monster trucks. I will reiterate: $125 million was spent on this, plus some significant amount more on advertising. Imagine how many better uses that money could have been put to. Lucas Till, TV’s new douchebag MacGyver, stars in the notorious flop – as if you needed another reason to avoid it.
‘The Bye Bye Man‘ – An early candidate for dumbest movie title of the year mixes a little bit of Candyman and a little bit of the Slender Man urban legend into a schlocky horror concoction about a supernatural baddie who will come kill you if you even so much as think his name. It sounds awful, but it cost next to nothing to make and easily turned a profit. Expect ‘The Bye Bye Man 2: Bye Bye Bye’ within a year.
‘War on Everyone‘ – For his first Hollywood production, ‘The Guard’ and ‘Calvary’ writer/director John Michael McDonagh delivers a cop/buddy spoof starring Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña. Reaction was mixed. Most reviews praised the clever dialogue but found the plot weak and the project ultimately inferior to similar recent efforts such as ‘The Nice Guys’.
The Criterion Collection’s only two Blu-rays this week are breakout standalone editions of the French musicals ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg‘ and ‘The Young Girls of Rochefort‘. Both were previously included as part of the six-film ‘The Essential Jacques Demy‘ box set, which is still in print and comes to a better value.
Arrow Video has a busy week. After many delays, the label is finally ready to bring out Takeshi Miike’s gonzo gangster saga, the ‘Dead or Alive Trilogy‘. After that is the ’80s horror two-fer ‘House: Two Stories‘. [Note that the ‘House’ collection being released in the United States only contains the first two movies, presumably due to rights issues. The UK box set has all four movies in the franchise.] Perhaps as a measure to balance out the schlock, Arrow tries for something a little artier and more respectable with ‘Ludwig‘, Luchino Visconti’s historical bio-pic about King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
The Cohen Media Group digs up Julie Dash’s 1991 art house sensation ‘Daughters of the Dust‘, a period piece set amongst the Gullah people – descendants of African slaves who preserved their native culture and traditions on an island off the coast of South Carolina in the early 20th Century. I saw this one in film school and recall not liking it very much, but its reputation as an indie masterpiece makes me want to reevaluate it.
It came and went without much notice at the time, but Kino remembers the 1996 adaptation of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible‘, starring Daniel-Day Lewis and Winona Ryder.
‘Phantasm’ fans may have been wise not to buy the recent Blu-ray editions of the first film and ‘Ravager’, the most recent entry. Those two now come bundled in ‘The Phantasm Collection‘ along with the rest of the franchise’s installments. In the past, rights issues prevented all of these movies from being collected in one place. I imagine that Well Go USA must have put some real work into making it finally happen.
In case you don’t already own it, Fox offers a lower-price reissue of the ‘Alien Anthology‘ box set, this time with Digital HD codes in the package.
If you’re in the mood for comedy, HBO rolls out the third season of ‘Silicon Valley‘ and the fifth season of ‘Veep‘.
I suppose that I’ll have to get around to watching ‘Hidden Figures’ and ‘Lion’ at some point, but I don’t feel any particular rush to do that. I bet that at least ‘Hidden Figures’ will turn up on HBO soon enough. ‘Toni Erdmann’ and ‘War on Everyone’ might be rentals.
Are you more excited for something this week than I am?