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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Three Billboards, The Disaster Artist, Call Me By Your Name, I, Tonya and more


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – I always hate watching movies after they’ve been really hyped up, because they so often fail to live up to the buzz. With Oscar wins for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell in the bag, I was worried that this film – which admittedly I wasn’t overwhelmingly excited to watch in the first place – would be a big disappointment. And it turns out that, if anything, I was still surprised by just how great it is. Honestly, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. The performances are stellar across the board, the story is compelling and emotional, the characters are real, and the humor that keeps the film from being a slog is never out of place. I hesitate to call any film perfect, but Three Billboards sure comes pretty damn close. I love this movie.

The Disaster Artist – I also loved this movie, although in a very different way. Based on the true story of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero, who created and starred in The Room (the world’s most notorious cult classic bad film), this movie is a heck of a lot of fun. Starring Dave and James Franco (and directed by James Franco), we get to see the formation of their friendship and the shooting of the film, plus its initial release. The good news is you DON’T have to have seen The Room to enjoy this movie (I haven’t still.) I would say that it probably helps if you’re at least familiar with the story of The Room’s cult status, but even if you aren’t this is a great film. It didn’t do very well at the box office, but it’s definitely worth tracking down.

I, Tonya – Margot Robbie shines in this biopic about Tonya Harding and her life as she was embroiled in the scandal surrounding the attack on her skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan. Allison Janney is also outstanding, as evidenced by her Oscar win for best Supporting Actress. But it’s not just an acting exercise; the film is also really strong on its own right. Told in a unique style and with a sense of black comedy that doesn’t elicit loud laughter but rather wry chuckles, the film holds up well on its own merits. Another one that underperformed at the box office, I, Tonya is another really enjoyable film out this week.

Call Me by Your Name – The Oscar nominations continue, as Call Me by Your Name received nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor (for Timothy Chalamet). Chalamet’s was well-deserved, as he and co-star Armie Hammer are both excellent in the lead roles as two men who fall in love (lust?) in 1980s Italy. I don’t know that I feel that the Best Picture nom was 100% deserved, although it is a solidly good movie. But it’s got a bit of a languorous pace and a running time over two hours, which makes it a bit too long by my movie clock. Still, it’s an overall enjoyable film, and once again, the performances make the film.

The Age of Innocence – Based on the Edith Wharton novel and directed by Martin Scorsese, this 1993 adaptation stars Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder. Now, I understand why this film is well-loved, or at least critically appreciated. But a two-hour-plus period drama is far from my wheelhouse, and while I know it’s not a popular opinion, I’m also just not that big of a fan of Scorsese’s. It’s not a bad film, it’s just overly long and I found it not as engaging as I want it to be. The plus side of the film is that the three leads are excellent which isn’t terribly surprising. Plus, as a Criterion Collection release, the film gets remastered and restored sound and picture and a very nice collection of extra features. Fans will be pleased.

Fear the Walking Dead: Season 3 – I would not want to be Fear the Walking Dead. I mean, after eight seasons of The Walking Dead being the most popular show in the world (although it’s a popularity that seems to be waning), the pressure to live up to the parent show was evident in the early seasons. Now, three seasons in, the show has found its own identity, and while it really has strayed from the core concept of the show – which was supposed to detail the initial days of the outbreak – it’s a big improvement over the early episodes. I still find some of the characters annoying but, like the main show, it’s clear that no one is safe and the cast has changed sizably in the past two years. It’s still not as compelling as TWD for me, but it’s a lot more watchable than it was in seasons past.

When the Starlight EndsOutlander’s Sam Heughan stars in what will likely be most Outlander fans’ first non-Jamie exposure to him in this esoteric romance/drama. The film also stars Arabella Oz (daughter of TV’s Dr. Oz), who’s quite luminescent in her own right. This not-quite-linear movie has lighter moments alongside the drama, and the story deals with a writer trying to decide if he’s made the right choices in his life, especially when it comes to romance. Heughan is, as usual, all smoulder and charm, and the gorgeous Arabella Oz holds her own equally well. It’s not a slam dunk of a film, but it’s enjoyable enough to watch.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Kickboxer: Retaliation – Another Kickboxer movie! Hooray…? I get the appeal of direct-to-video sequels to once-popular movies. You get a familiar title and a still somewhat-popular actor for little expenditure and likely a quick profit. And while I’m sure the Van Damme fans out there are happy to see another entry in this franchise, I don’t know that it was necessary. Van Damme takes a supporting role (as do Mike Tyson and Christopher Lambert this go around), and the film is a pretty standard lots-of-fighting/little-of-substance DTV offering. Okay for die-hard fans, everyone else can skip it.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 9 – I know, I know… I’m supposed to love Curb Your Enthusiasm. It sure seems like everyone else on the planet does. But I just do not like this show. I find Larry David’s character completely unlikable, to the point where I can’t even enjoy watching him in a love-to-hate-him kind of way. That said, if you like the show, this latest collection includes the entire ninth season, giving you six hours of Larry’s miserableness to… I dunno… enjoy? Is that what you do with this show?
  • Con Man – A great cast anchors a solid-if-unspectacular film that tells the true story of Barry Minkow, one of the greatest scammers in American history, who bilked millions and millions of dollars out of people. James Caan, Mark Hamill, Ving Rhames, Elisabeth Rohm, Talia Shire and Armand Asante all have supporting roles, while lesser known Justin Baldoni takes on the lead role. The film is a bit uneven; there are a few parts that are rather riveting, but there are an equal number of scenes that just aren’t particularly memorable. The film is worth watching because it’s an interesting story overall, but it’s not a home run.
  • Into the Badlands: The Complete Second Season – AMC does a great job with The Walking Dead. Not only is it a terrific show, but it’s also a massive hit. Unfortunately, that seems to have made the network think it can make other great TV shows… and that hasn’t been the case as of yet. Heavily hyped during the last season of The Walking Dead, the show looked awesome: set in a dystopic future, a samurai-like warrior has to fight for honor and justice in a lawless land. Cool, right? Unfortunately, it’s more about how the audience has to fight to stay awake. Yes, the action sequences are cool. But everything else about the show — the characters, the settings, the scripts, the drama – are dreadfully boring. Honestly, I don’t know how you can film such gripping fight scenes and then fill the rest of the show with stories and characters I literally couldn’t care less about. Judging by how little buzz this show generated, I’m guessing I’m not alone in my opinion of it.
  • The Good Fight: Season One – The Good Wife may be over, but The Good Fight goes on. This spin-off of the hit show sees Christine Baranski in the lead role as a lawyer forced out of her firm who takes on a job working at a prestigious African American–owned firm that’s gaining attention for tackling police brutality cases. There’s a great supporting cast – that includes Cush Jumbo, Erica Tazel, Sarah Steele, Justin Bartha, Delroy Lindo, Paul Guilfoyle and Bernadette Peters – and the show marks the first original scripted show that aired exclusively on the CBS All Access App. This DVD collection includes the entire first season (10 episodes), and it’s a pretty easy binge watch. I can’t say I was looking for another law show to watch, but if you are, this one is pretty good.
  • Major Crimes: The Sixth and Final Season – I was never a huge fan of The Closer, which this show is a spin-off of, but I can see the appeal of this show. While the always-excellent Mary McDonnell takes the lead role, Major Crimes has a true ensemble feel to it as we follow a team of investigators and lawyers as they try to get convictions for, well, major crimes. At times, the characters seem a bit cookie-cutter (or the opposite, quirky just for the sake of being quirky), but overall, you get an enjoyable crime drama out of it all. If you like this genre, you’ll enjoy the show, and while it’s coming to an end, six seasons is a pretty good run.
  • Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Third Season – I’m not old enough to have watched Laugh-In when it originally aired, but I grew up watching it on Nick at Night repeats as a child. My parents were the perfect age to be fans of the show, so it was a staple in my house and I became a big fan. Laugh-In was basically one of the first sketchy comedy shows, and it was filled with an amazing roster of talent including Goldie Hawn, Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Gary Owens, and many other comedy greats. Digging into the show, I found it to still be an incredibly fun time. It’s great to see all the old stars again, and the humor is still right on point. Sure, not every single sketch or bit still works, but the humor is largely timeless, and I had a really good time revisiting what was a huge part of my childhood.
  • Kendra on Top: Season 6 – The spin-off from The Girls Next Door reality show continues with the return of Kendra on Top: Season 6, in which we follow the dim-witted but high energy former playmate as she builds her brand and lives her life. Along for the ride occasionally are her former NFL husband, Hank Baskett, and her young child. I never really bought into the whole Kendra thing, but you’ve gotta give her credit for keeping her 15 minutes of fame alive well past the expiration date. Guilty pleasure television at its finest, I guess.
  • Faces Places – I don’t always love documentaries, but this film is pretty cool. It’s also not so much a documentary as it is sort of a capturing of life. In it, 89-year old Agnés Varda, a pioneer in the French New Wave, and a 33-year-old French photographer and muralist named JR travel around villages in France, meeting locals and then painting giant murals of them. It’s sort of a combination of road trip, art project, and human story collection, all wrapped up into an intriguing and original 90-minute movie. It’s different, and that’s what I like about it.
  • Frank Serpico – Everyone knows the name Serpico thanks to the Al Pacino movie from the 70s. This documentary feature tells the real story of the “world’s most famous cop,” with Frank Serpico himself providing much of the tale. Serpico is interviewed along with some of his friends and admirers, as they recount how he took down corrupt cops in the 1970s. Serpico himself is a bit of a character, but I think he’s earned it. It’s a pretty fascinating story and a solid documentary and well.
  • When Calls the Heart: The Heart of Homecoming – How many books has Janette Oke written? Because I can count at least a dozen DVD releases in this series based on them. Is it a TV show? A series of movies? Both? I think the answer is all of the above. When Calls the Heart: The Heart of Homecoming is the latest in the series, and it stars Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin and Jack Wagner. I’ve said this before, but you don’t see a lot of romances where one of the main characters is a Canadian Mounty. Well, in this case you do. It’s pretty typical Hallmark fare, but I imagine the target audience will enjoy it.
  • The Paris Opera – “Life is short, Opera is long.” I saw that on a t-shirt once, and I use it any chance I get. Now, I’m not an opera fan and you may not be one, either, but that’s okay because this film is interesting whether you’re a fan of the music or not. Taking us behind the scenes of the 2015 season of the famed Paris Opera, we see the new director dealing with a strike, a bull (like, a literal bull), a terrorist attack, star egos, and much more. At times, the film plays out like a drama, which males it eminently more watchable than I expected. Worth checking out.
  • Pastor Paul – Ummm…? (To be honest, I considered leaving that as my entire review of this film, but I decided to expound further.) All right, let’s start with the official description from the back of the case: “A feature film about a white tourist in West Africa who is possessed by a ghost after acting in a Nollywood movie… a remarkable confluence of New African Cinema, Christianity and Witchcraft; Filmed in Ghana and Nigeria in 2013 on a micro-budget, a guerilla-style international co-production. Pastor Paul is the first American Nollywood film.” Yep, Nollywood. That’s the Nigerian film industry, for those of you unfamiliar. I’d be lying if I said I really got anything about this film. So I’ll say this, if you’re one of those people who seeks out crazy-cheap B-movies, cult classics, and bizarre cinematic oddities, rush to track this one down.

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