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Blu-ray Reviews for September 19, 2017

A sampling of this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of capsule reviews.


  Distributor: Warner Bros.

Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior.  Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when an American pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers…and her true destiny.

Even though one might credit Warner Bros. with the resurgence of the superhero genre after choosing Christopher Nolan to reboot Batman with Batman Begins, followed by the tremendous Dark Knight (and its atrocious Dark Knight Rises), you won’t find many people leaping to defend the studio that has failed to match the level of quality and patience showcased by rival Marvel Studios. Right from the get go, they didn’t even allow Superman to further spread his cape with Man of Steel 2 — Batman was already being shoved into the mix (along with Wonder Woman). It was obvious to anyone looking that Warner Bros. was in quite a hurry, hoping that by skipping a handful of standalones they could get to their Justice League franchise that much quicker. What resulted was a bad Man of Steel and a worse Batman vs. Superman. Out of the latter, however, came a nearly unanimously praised aspect: Wonder Woman, and the performance by Gal Gadot that brought her to life.

In a rare show of artistry over commerce, Warner Bros. tapped Patty Jenkins, director of Monster (about a lesbian serial killer, no less) to take the helm, which resulted in the highest-reviewed and most well-regarded addition to the DC Comics film universe since The Dark Knight. And with good reason. Even for someone like me who finds nothing interesting or entertaining about the superhero genre, those misgivings pale in the face of a film that’s extremely well made, regardless of subject matter.

Jenkins directs, astoundingly, like a veteran of the action genre, even though as a director of features in general she is largely still wet behind the ears. On top of that, she’s working in an unknown genre and with a budget the largest of her career so far. What results  is a tremendous film — genre or otherwise. Though she leans somewhat on producer/DC universe consultant Zack Snyder’s 300-ish speed ramping style, it’s in favor of telling a very different kind of story — one that leans more on the fantastical than the visceral. (No bloody mists; no floating cut-off heads.) There’s an inherent innocence that permeates the film, harking back to Greek mythology to tell it story rather than tragic parental demise or freaks science lab accidents.

Though Zack Snyder’s name has carried controversy ever since taking on Man of Steel, there’s one thing he got entirely right ever after being given the keys to the DC film kindgom: choosing Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, the most marvelously casted DC character since Heath Ledger’s Joker. Gadot owns this role, bringing to it a detectable sense of wonder and awe in everything she sees in a world she knows nothing about. She plays Wonder Woman as she should be played — with strength, fortitude, and with a goodness not yet corrupted by stinky human beings. She’s incredibly strong at the same time seeming so childlike, and even in Wonder Woman’s faithful Halloween costume-ish outfit still exudes the appropriate amount of sexiness. It’s easy to fall in love with her over the course of Wonder Woman’s running time, and that’s the best thing one could ever say about an actor’s performance. (The scene where she and Chris Pine’s military spy slow-dance in falling snow, and he hardly looks her in the eye while hers never leave his face is one of the best scenes you’ll see in any film.)

PICTURE & SOUND:

It should come to the surprise of no one that Wonder Woman looks and sounds flawless on its Blu-ray presentation. Warner Bros. has perfected their home video releases strictly in these terms (and I noticed they even put effort into the interactive main menu! I’ll take credit for that one, thanks!). After their tremendous presentation of the similarly big-budgeted King Arthur, Wonder Woman follows in the same steps. The level of detail captured is staggering, and Jenkins stages many scenes that offer a very dynamic look. Colors are bright though slightly reigned in, although nowhere near Batman vs. Superman’s bleach-stock look. Audio matches video pound for pound. Wonder Woman offers moments both small and bigger than life, and at no point does the dialogue get lost in the pounding score by Rupert Gregson-Williams. Ambience is constant, maintaining the film’s drive.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Epilogue: Etta’s Mission
  • Crafting the Wonder
  • A Director’s Vision: Themyscira: The Hidden Island
  • A Director’s Vision: Beach Battle
  • A Director’s Vision: A Photograph Through Time
  • A Director’s Vision: Diana in the Modern World
  • A Director’s Vision: Wonder Woman at War
  • Warriors of Wonder Woman
  • The Trinity
  • The Wonder Behind the Camera
  • Finding the Wonder Woman Within
  • Extended Scenes
  • Blooper Reel

OVERALL:

It’d be nice to think Warner Bros. will have learned its lesson from their experience with Wonder Woman and apply rational thinking and a bit of dignity to their future titles, but the jury is probably still out on that one. As of right now they’ve got too many clunkers to overcome, and all that post-Nolan Batman goodwill can only last for so long. Wonder Woman is an excellent film — the best of this DC rebirth — and with Jenkins back on board for Wonder Woman 2, perhaps the future doesn’t look so gloomy after all.


Distributor: Lionsgate

Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott) is a Western icon with a golden voice, but his best performances are decades behind him. He spends his days reliving old glories with his former co-star, Jeremy (Nick Offerman), until a surprise cancer diagnosis brings his priorities into sharp focus. He soon strikes up an exciting, contentious relationship with stand-up comic Charlotte (Laura Prepon), and he attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter), all while searching for one final role to cement his legacy.

When older actors are cast to mirror the parts they play, it conjures an additional sense of tragedy and triumph in the films they inhabit. Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, Michael Keaton in Birdman, and the list goes on. The stories come off much more personal. When you can look past the character the actor is creating and see the actor themselves, every line of their dialogue rings true for both. Every moment of weakness shared, or scenes showing them at their most pathetic, feels different and more intimate and hits much harder. When Rocky Balboa the character stands before the boxing commission and tearfully derides them for telling him he CAN’T do something — in the same way the announcement of Rocky Balboa the film was met with the usual amount of cynicism birthed from too many bad sequels, and with people telling Stallone he CAN’T make another Rocky — it transcended make believe. The relevance of that moment couldn’t be confined to just moviedom. It was both Balboa the character and Stallone the artist begging people not to discount what he was capable of just because of his age, the mistakes he’s made, and because of how long he’s been in the game.

And now with The Hero, Sam Elliott joins those ranks as a man looking back at his own career as a western film actor whose heyday is behind him, and who is forced to resort to voice overs for commercials that are way beneath him. (When you see him patiently repeat the same chicken dinner dialogue over and over in the film’s opener, Elliott’s real-life commercial voice-overs for Coors and Dodge Ram are never far from your mind).

The Hero hits familiar beats — the estranged daughter, the mortality in the face of hopelessness, the injection of life from a younger woman  — but when handled with this amount of grace from writer/director Brett Haley, their power and effectiveness overcome their well traveled road. And with Elliott being the actor who brings Lee Hayden to life, he — like his colleagues before him — rides a legacy of fan-favorites and his reputation to moments of joy and sadness. Elliott may have embodied the mythical western figure in some excellent genre titles (Tombstone, surely a favorite; The Big Lebowski’s cowboy narrator; and then there’s Lorne Hutch, the original Marlboro Man, from Jason Reitman’s excellent Thank You for Smoking — again, an aging, dying western actor), but he’s enjoyed a career across all genres as well. (Say it with me: Roadhouse.) His presence in The Hero, also the name of the most celebrated film in Hayden’s career, gives it its power, and when his character remarks that “The Hero”  was the only good film he ever made, let’s hope that was only Hayden talking — not the man who brought him to life.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The Hero looks phenomenal, existing in constantly brightly lit and welcoming environments, but the scene set at the Western Film Appreciation Society’s award ceremony looks gorgeous as well, draped in dimness and Hollywood style spotlights. As for audio, The Hero is mostly dialogue-driven and everything sounds just fine — crisp and clear and receiving top prominence. Elliott’s voice — his most famous attribute — purrs out of your speakers.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Brett Haley and Actor Sam Elliott
  • Photo Gallery

OVERALL:

The Hero is one of this year’s best kept secrets, with a towering yet understated performance from Sam Elliott, who after all these years is still cool as hell, and who still has awesome hair. The Blu-ray release could have benefited from more special features examining this wonderful film, but the PQ and AQ are no slouches. Highly recommended.


Distributor: Lionsgate

Based on the real-life courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick tells the story of Pakistan-born aspiring comedian Kumail (Nanjiani), who connects with grad student Emily (Kazan) after one of his stand-up sets. However, what they thought would be just a one-night stand blossoms into the real thing, which complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents. When Emily is beset with a mystery illness, it forces Kumail to navigate the medical crisis with her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) who he’s never met, while dealing with the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart.

Original founder and member of comedy troupe/MTV Show “The State,”  who later pared down the act into comedy troupe “Stella” (with Michael Ian Black and David Wain), Michael Showalter didn’t seem like an obvious choice for becoming a filmmaker. That aside, he especially didn’t seem like he’d be a filmmaker with such a light, charming, and romantic touch. After a shaky directorial debut with 2005’s The Baxter, Showalter spent the next decade directing television before trying his hand again with the triumphant and extremely enjoyable Hello, My Name is Doris. Said film told a story about an older, aloof woman slowly falling in love with a much younger man at her office and navigating the dangerous waters that came from pursuing that love without regard for their age difference. That a director who could still be considered untested managed a career-best performance out of Hollywood icon Sally Field was one of the film’s many achievements.

And now Showalter has returned with another story about a forbidden love, and as usual, has brought with it his extremely quirky humor but also his adept touch at handling such a fragile story. The Big Sick treads similar ground as his predecessor, but this time Showalter’s willing to go just a little bit darker. Not too dark, mind you, as The Big Sick is often very funny and very charming, but certain sequences go entirely for the upset. (A young girl falling into a coma with a life-threatening illness tends to do that.) Kumail Nanjiani excels as a pseudo version of himself, and though he lived this story as well as scripted it, it’s Zoe Kazan who utterly transfixes with her charming, lovely, slightly goofy, and sexy performance as Emily, the girl strick first with love and then a mysterious illness. In the way the best dramedies do, The Big Sick goes, first, for the laughs, and then settles in for a spell before pulling the rug out and plunging all of its characters into despair, and for different reasons. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are perfectly cast as Emily’s parents, with the former playing the whip-smart firecracker we’ve come to know over the years, and the latter playing a stodgy, relatively inarticulate, but entirely lovable dolt who wants to do the right thing, even if he has trouble knowing what that is.

The cast of The Big Sick make magic together, and Showalter guides them all with his adept skills as a storyteller as well as a director. Though it runs a little too long, The Big Sick is wholly entertaining, saddening, and joyful, and it’s a continuing sign of things to come from Showalter the filmmaker.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The Big Sick offers a pretty standard high-def experience for a film of this intimacy. Colors are very bright, however; this is a very cheerful looking film. Clarity is mostly very good, capturing fine detail. “Gentle” is how I would describe the look and feel of the picture overall. Audio fares about the same. Showalter brings with him his usual eclectic musical tastes, offering a wide variety of what one might term “hipster” bands. Dialogue is presented with priority.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The supplements.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • “A Personal Journey: The Making of The Big Sick” Featurette
  • “The Real Story” Featurette
  • 2017 SXSW Film Festival Panel
  • Cast & Filmmaker Commentary with Actor-Writer Kumail Nanjiani, Writer Emily V. Gordon, Producer Barry Mendel and Director Michael Showalter
  • The Big Sick: The Other Stuff
  • Deleted Scenes
  • The Bigger Sick: Stick Around for More Laughs

OVERALL:

Lionsgate is two for two this week, releasing another unheralded and excellent film worthy of your attention. PQ and AQ achieve standard quality levels for such a low-key film, but the supplements are many and as equally charming. This title, as well, comes highly recommended. I look very much forward to what Showalter does next.


Distributor: Virgil Films

The Bad Batch follows Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) after she’s left in a Texas wasteland fenced off from civilization. While trying to navigate the unforgiving landscape, Arlen is captured by a savage band of cannibals led by the mysterious Miami Man (Jason Momoa). With her life on the line she makes her way to The Dream (Keanu Reeves). As she adjusts to life in ‘the bad batch’, Arlen discovers that being good or bad mostly depends on who’s standing next to you.

The Bad Batch is completely indefinable. Part horror film, part black comedy, part philosophical introspection, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour is wearing every single one of her influences on her sleeve: Jim Jarmusch, the Coen Brothers, Nicholas Winging Refn, Harmony Korine, George Miller, the two Davids — Lynch and Cronenberg — along with the teeniest bit of John Carpenter. Very largely free of dialogue (heroine Arlene doesn’t speak until a half hour into the film; lead “villain” Momoa, 45 minutes), Amirpour establishes tone through what the characters see and how they react to it (along with a hugely eclectic soundtrack). Out of nowhere, The Bad Batch is shockingly disturbing, though not nearly as violent; as you might imagine, seeing someone get sawed apart set to Ace of Base conjures conflicting sensations.

Waterhouse’s Arlen and Momoa’s Miami Man eventually come head to head as one might expect, but not in the way you might expect it. Traditional cinematic characterization has the audience conditioned to accept Arlen as hero, and Miami Man the villain (and when the latter is the head of a murderous, cannibal tribe, it’s easy to go along with that), but as The Bad Batch is intent on proving, and which it does somewhat shakily, everything is shades of gray. Arlen may be the hero, but she’s not altogether good, while Miami Man is the villain, but not entirely without empathy.

As for Keanu Reeves, holy shit. I don’t even know what to say other than I love Keanu Reeves.  He plays The Dream as a suave, well-spoken, serial impregnator who lords over his people who live in squalor while he lives in a mansion surrounded by beautiful, fertile women. There’s something slightly post-Face/Off Nicolas Cage about his performance that adds to the bizarreness of this character and he wears it well.

The Bad Batch, ultimately, is about the American dream. To get any more thematically specific than that is beyond me. It doesn’t offer a typical movie-going experience, despite all the familiar faces (look for a fun cameo in the desert trash pile), and its quiet, plodding pace won’t certainly satiate those hoping for sustained cannibalism and a Mad Max faction ware, but what’s on display is undeniably fascinating.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The Bad Batch looks excellent in high-def. Being that the entirety takes place in the open desert, with the rare descent to an interior set, the picture is very bright and detail is remarkable. There’s an acid-trip sequence during the second act that presents rather well. As for audio, and as previously mentioned, The Bad Batch doesn’t offer much in the way of dialogue, but leans heavily on a fun and diverse soundtrack. What dialogue there is sounds just fine, although Momoa’s “Cuban” accent can be a tough one to decipher at times.  

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The supplements.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Director’s commentary with Ana Lily Armipour
  • Making The Bad Batch
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Short Film: Six and a Half

OVERALL:

Whew, I don’t even know. The Bad Batch is kind of nuts, but infinitely watchable; slow-paced and exacting, but never boring. And if you’ve already seen it, and if you’ve got a read on the “why” of it all, I’d love to hear it. Its Blu-ray presentation excels, so if you’re in adventurous mood, definitely go for it.


Also Available This Week:

 Distributor: Shout! Factory

Paris, 1926. A time when anything could happen … and usually did. At the center of this world is Nick Hart (Keith Carradine, Nashville), a struggling painter who makes a meager living drawing caricatures at his favorite café. Nick longs for success and even agrees to forge masterpieces for a wealthy divorcée (Geraldine Chaplin, Doctor Zhivago). But what he truly desires is Rachel (Linda Fiorentino, The Last Seduction), the alluring wife of an obsessively jealous and lethally dangerous businessman (John Lone, The Last Emperor). Also starring Geneviève Bujold (Anne Of The Thousand Days) and Wallace Shawn (My Dinner With Andre), The Moderns is a stylish and witty exploration of the manners and mores within a lost generation.

Special Features:

  • NEW 2K Scan From The Interpositive
  • NEW Interviews With Director Alan Rudolph, Producer Carolyn Pfeiffer, And Actor Keith Carradine (96 minutes)

Distributor: Lionsgate

Action legend Steven Seagal headlines this explosive thriller that pits U.S. forces against an Eastern European drug cartel. When crime boss Salazar turns informant, U.S. Marshal Jensen (Luke Goss, Blade II) and his team must guard their luxury-hotel safe house. But as cartel underboss Sinclaire (UFC fighter Georges St. Pierre) and his hit squads descend to murder Salazar, the situation explodes, enraging Agent Harrison (Seagal), who will stop at nothing to root out the mole that compromised the operation.

Special Features:

  • None

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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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