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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Battle of the Sexes, Marshall, The Foreigner and more

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Battle of the Sexes – The Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs tennis match of 1973 is one of the greatest sporting events of all time. Battle of the Sexes is not one of the greatest sports movies of all time, but it’s pretty enjoyable overall. Running right around two hours long, the film does a great job of recreating the media circus around the event, but it also spends an inordinate amount of time on King’s personal relationships. Which would be fine if those parts of the film were as interesting as the rest of the film, but they’re not. The filmmakers could have cut out 20 minutes from the film and it would have been a much more satisfying offering. That said, I still enjoyed it quite a bit, and Emma Stone and Steve Carrell are both absolutely fantastic. Worth a watch, even if it’s a flawed film.

The Foreigner – Jackie Chan’s latest film garnered a lot of critical acclaim, but unfortunately didn’t fare so well at the US box office, which is a shame because it’s a pretty good film. It’s an odd one, though. Chan eschews much of his usual martial arts action and instead disappears into his role as a grieving father whose daughter was killed by a terrorist bomb. Of course, he has a special forces background, and he sets out to track down the terrorists responsible. But there’s a whole other movie in here, with Pierce Brosnan as an Irish politician trying to settle the peace since the terrorists were supposedly IRA. The result is a film in two parts: the first half focuses on Jackie Chan, while the second half sees Brosnan take center stage. I liked the film, and it’s a serious affair with a good story and a few nice action scenes, so it’s a nice change of pace for Chan.

The Mountain Between Us – The critics’ quote on the cover of The Mountain Between Us proclaims with exuberance that you will be “on the edge of your seat!” That’s not true. The film is an extremely enjoyable tale of survival and romance against the harshest of odds, but it’s not a white-knuckle thriller. It’s a lot of Idris Elba and Kate Winslet walking through snow and coming up against mountainous obstacles. But at no point is it a thriller in the traditional sense. I enjoyed the film immensely, but I think it helps if you know you’re not going into an action film, but rather a more measured and realistic tale of survival in the remote wilderness. Two excellent performances anchor this film, and the only thing that kept it from being a real slam dunk for me is that I feel like the romance aspect of it is actually underplayed. That’s not a complaint I make too often, but here I think it’s valid. Still, a really good flick overall.

Marshall – Chadwick Boseman keeps getting sucked back into biopics (he previously starred as Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get On Up), this time starring as pioneering lawmaker Thurgood Marshall, who would go on to become the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. This film focuses on his younger days as a lawyer fighting racism, and taking on a racially motivated case that would define his career. Boseman is terrific, and he’s ably supported by the terrific Josh Gad and Sterling K. Brown (who’s so SO good on This is Us) as well as Dan Stevens, who I’m a huge fan of. A great court case movie can always be a good time, and with the larger picture at work here, this film feels important, too. But most of all, I enjoyed it, and that’s the best part of it.

Friend Request – A largely forgettable horror movie that takes on a social media twist (similar to last year’s Unfriended), this one is mostly notable for starring Alicia Debnam-Carey, who became a standout star on Fear the Walking Dead. The rest of the cast is filled with familiar-but-I-don’t-know-their-names young actors, and the cast does the best they can with fairly cliched material. Sure, the social media aspect keeps it somewhat fresh, but I wonder how well it will age. I mean, it’s an okay way to kill 90 minutes, but it’s instantly forgettable.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House – Liam Neeson stars as Mark Felt, better known as Deep Throat, the mysterious FBI source who provided Woodward & Bernstein the information they needed to bring down Richard Nixon. The film focuses on the events of Nixon’s downfall and Felt’s role in the proceedings. There’s a great cast here (Diane Lane, Tony Goldwyn, Ike Barinholtz, Josh Lucas, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kate Walsh) and the film is solid, but it’s never as exciting as I wanted it to be. I get that it’s not an action film and I’m okay with that, but there are a few slower moments sprinkled throughout. Still, it’s an interesting dive into a largely unknown story, and overall it’s worth watching.
  • Judgment at Nuremberg – Starring Judy Garland, Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Montgomery Clift, and even William Shatner and directed by the great Stanley Kramer, this classic film makes its return to Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber. Even at nearly three hours long, this film is a masterpiece. Recounting the Nazi war trials at Nuremberg, Germany, the film features an all-star cast and takes the subject matter extremely seriously. And the film is timelier than ever, what with the rise in fascism and neo-Nazis in the world today. This movie is a powerful reminder of an era that can not be forgotten. Watch it for the message. Watch it for the performances. Watch it because it’s absolutely 100% worth watching.
  • Bad Day for the Cut – Writer/co-director Chris Baugh and co-director Brendan Mullin have crafted a taut, exciting dark thriller with Bad Day for the Cut, a film about a simple man who goes on a mission of revenge when his mother is murdered. File this one right alongside a movie like Blue Ruin or Cold in July and it would be right at home. While the cast is unknown here in the US, there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch, but the real star of the film is the overwhelming atmosphere, mood, and tension that permeates every minute of its running time. This is one of those little movies that could, and I recommend checking it out.
  • My Little Pony: The Movie – Okay, I’m not one of those adult men who gets really into My Little Pony. Nothing against the Bronies, I just don’t count myself as one of them. So I have to look at My Little Pony: The Movie solely through the lens of a film reviewer and a parent. And on that end, the film is perfectly fine. Adding some celebrity voice talent is a nice touch, I guess (with Emily Blunt, Kristin Chenoweth, Taye Diggs, Uzo Adubo, Liev Schreiber, Michael Pena), although I question how much value that adds for the target audience. There are also some suspect moments of animation (mostly CGI enhancements) that don’t look all that great to my eye, but again, I wonder how much little kids will care. Overall, youngsters should like this film just fine, while adults will probably mostly remain unmoved by it (unless you’re a Brony.)
  • 68 Kill – Matthew Gray Gubler and Queen of the Direct to Video Films Annalynne McCord star in this action thriller about a sociopathic, overbearing hooker girlfriend and the meek boyfriend she ropes into her plot to steal $68,000 from one of her clients. What follows is a blood-soaked thrill ride that is short on plot and character but high on adrenaline. There’s also a healthy dose of black comedy, but the real emphasis is on blood carnage. It’s not a bad film, not a great film; I think it really just depends if you like these kinds of films. If you do, you’ll probably have some fun with it. If not, I’m guessing it will be too over-the-top for you.
  • WB: Doc Hollywood, Dolores Claiborne, Auntie Mame, Summer of 42, Battle Cry, Strictly Dishonorable Double Feature – The Warner Archive print-on-demand service has a high-quality group of new titles to kick off the new year. Making its Blu-ray debut is classic ‘90s comedy Doc Hollywood, starring Michael J. Fox. The film briefly made a star out of Julie Warner (who I wish had been able to hold on to her star status, as she’s beautiful and talented), and while it feels very early-‘90s, it’s still a lot of fun. It also serves to remind what a great screen presence Michael J. Fox was and how missed he is on our screens. Dolores Claiborne was not a sequel to Misery, but it sure seemed like one when it came out, at least spiritually. Based on a book by Stephen King and also starring Kathy Bates, the film is – like Misery — much more grounded in reality and less in King’s usual supernatural trappings. Bates is terrific once again, even if the film doesn’t reach the heights of Misery. Next, Rosalind Russell gives a career performance in Auntie Mame, which makes its Blu-ray debut here. Based on a Broadway play, Russell plays a socialite whose life is drastically changed after the stock market crash of 1929. Over the next two decades, we follow her through ups and downs and potential romance. It’s larger than life and filled with classic-style songs, and Russell has never been better. I can’t say I was familiar with Summer of ’42, which also makes its Blu-ray debut this week. It’s funny, too, because the film – about an isolated island and the relationships on it during wartime – was a pretty big hit, grossing $44 million back in 1971 off of a $1 million budget. I can’t say I was blown away by the film, but it’s not bad if you like 1970s-style filmmaking. Another Blu-ray is Battle Cry, a story of a group of young marines going into training starring Van Heflin and directed by the great Raoul Walsh. The film takes us through training camp and onto the front lines, told in that inimitable mid-1950s Hollywood style. Not a real classic, but an enjoyable film nonetheless. Finally, the Strictly Dishonorable Double Feature (on DVD only) gives us two versions of one of Preston Sturges’ more beloved films. The first one from 1931 stars Paul Lukas and Sidney Fox, while the 1951 version stars Elio Pinza and Janet Leigh. Based on Sturges’s own Broadway play, the films are comedic romance films with big characters and some big songs in the 1951 version. I always enjoy seeing Sturges’s works in any form.
  • Conduct! Every Move Counts – This film does what a good documentary should do: expose me to something I didn’t even know existed. The film follows five young classical music conductors (a 20-year-old from Uzbekistan, a New York hotshot, an Englishman, a German, and a conductor from Japan who conducts with his bare hands) as they compete in a prestigious conductors’ competition. In this contest, 24 conductors have exactly 20 minutes to conduct an orchestra they’ve never even met and try to win the top honor. Needless to say, every single person in the competition takes it extremely seriously and that comes across in this film, which is surprisingly engaging.

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