The Big Sick
Finds that laughter-through-tears sweet spot, often in the unlikeliest of places.
Sundance is over and the weather has turned to snow in most of the country. What better way could you spend the coldest month of the year than with a few streaming titles and Blu-ray releases? Netflix crammed their latest updates with a fantastically diverse array of titles from a war classic by Stanley Kubrick to recent art films to one of 2015's best TV shows. You'll definitely find something interesting there. And the Blu-ray and DVD shelves have been packed lately. We usually organize the Blu-ray/DVD section in terms of quality, but this edition's is alphabetical, just to switch it up a bit. If you really want to know, grab the Steven Spielberg and Spike Lee titles before the rest.
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
"Better Call Saul: Season One"
"Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure"
"Full Metal Jacket"
"Kurt & Courtney"
"A Picture of You"
"Stranger by the Lake"
"Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"
11 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
We're starting to take Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks for granted. The fact that neither were ever really in the conversation for Best Director and Best Actor nominations, respectively, for this incredible film shows you how political the Oscars really are. There's a sense that Spielberg and Hanks have already been recognized "enough." Never mind that this is one of Hanks' best career performances, and easily one of the best of the year. Never mind that Spielberg directs this cold war thriller like a finely-tuned machine, perfectly aligning all of the elements to maximum effect. I love that Mark Rylance was nominated and has a chance to win, but I think history will be surprised that the film wasn't more widely recognized as one of the best of 2015. It's a great movie.
A Case Of The Cold War: "Bridge Of Spies"
U-2 Spy Plane
Berlin 1961: Re-creating The Divide
Spy Swap: Looking Back On The Final Act
What happened here? How did The Weinstein Company and Bradley Cooper fumble the follow-up to Cooper's massive success with "American Sniper"? We could tell something was wrong when the film, which was once called "Adam Jones," didn't land at any of the fall film festivals. A Weinstein prestige pic in the fall with no festival presence is often a bad sign. And then the title change to "Burnt" didn't improve the feeling that this was a dud. And oh, what a dud it is. Cooper does his best to make it entertaining but he's just one of many talented people wasted on a flat, dull drama. It's another story about a spoiled white guy learning what's really important in life. We've seen it too many times and this one just doesn't offer any new flavors.
Feature Commentary with Director John Wells and Executive Chef Consultant Marcus Wareing
"Burnt": In the Kitchen with Bradley Cooper
Q&A Highlights with Director & Cast
Spike Lee's latest should have been a bigger deal. I feel like Amazon messed up the release a bit given the lack of attention it got when it was released theatrically, but I do like how quickly it's come out on Blu-ray and DVD and on Amazon Prime. Everyone should see this film. Not everyone will like it, but it's one of the most essential movie experiences of 2015 in that it's a prime example of a major filmmaker playing with the issues of today and his filmmaking abilities. Whatever you think of the final product, Lee has delivered his most passionate, angry, intense film in years. With great performances throughout, fantastic cinematography, and the kind of script you can pick apart for days, "Chi-Raq" is designed to start conversations. It's not pandering, it's not simple, and it's not easy to recap. Just see it. Decide for yourself.
"We Gotta Do Better" Music Video
The Making of "Chi-Raq" Featurette
Marielle Heller's Sundance hit landed on a surprising number of top ten lists at the end of the year, indicating that perhaps it should have won the Grand Jury Prize in Park City last year instead of "Me & Earl & the Dying Girl." Heller's film is a daring examination of teenage sexuality, carried by fantastic performances from Bel Powley and Alexander Skarsgard. It's the announcement of a very truthful, interesting voice in independent film. I'm not as in love with the movie as some of my colleagues, but I really can't wait to see what Heller and Powley do next.
Marielle's Journey: Bringing The Diary to Life
LA Film Festival Q&A with Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard and Director Marielle Heller
Commentary with Cast and Director
What a wasted opportunity. How do you get actors as talented as Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, and Michael Shannon together to tell a story as important as this one and fail to make an impact? Seriously, when the previews were released, didn't this look like a slam-dunk for awards season? What went wrong? Peter Sollett and his team told the wrong story. Instead of focusing on the people and the love story at the heart of "Freeheld," they turned it into a courtroom drama, spending way more time in a city council room than a hospital room. We never get to know the people at the heart of "Freeheld," despite the best efforts of the talented cast, especially Page, who is the best reason to rent "Freeheld."
The Making of "Freeheld" featurette
"Freeheld" to Freedom: Ocean County Then and Now featurette Oscar-winning documentary short "Freeheld"
Audio commentary with director Peter Sollett, Julianne Moore, and Ellen Page
I have to admit that the previews for Nancy Meyers' latest gave me the heebie-jeebies. It looked like a horrendous comedy about the generation gap: old people aren't hip! Young people dress like slackers! Watching it on Blu-ray, it's a lot more harmless than I expected, even producing a few decent laughs thanks, of all things, to Robert De Niro's committed performance. The legendary actor is remarkably likable, making the cliched script go down a bit easier. It's still way too long and I don't particularly like Anne Hathaway's work here, but it's more like a mediocre sitcom. You could do worse on a snowy Saturday night if you're just looking for a pleasant diversion.
Learning From Experience: Director Nancy Meyers and the cast discuss bridging the "generation gap" in a humorous way
Designs On Life: Learn about the film's runway-ready looks and eye-popping interior design
The Three Interns: An exclusive interview with Comedy Central fan faves Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman and newcomer Jason Orley
This beautiful family film from GKids and the animation director behind Disney's comeback in the late '80s and early '90s (he did "The Lion King") is not your standard piece of animation. It's essentially an anthology film with different animators tackling different sections of the title novel, tied together by a gorgeous fable featuring voice work by Liam Neeson and producer Salma Hayek. It also features new music from Damien Rice and Glen Hansard. If you're willing and eager to see animation as something different from the mega-blockbusters like "Minions," this is the film for you. It's lyrical, moving, and reminds one of the power of hand-drawn animation. Don't miss it.
Animating Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet"
An Interview with the Filmmakers
Why bother? The latest CGI orgy from Breck Eisner isn't horrendously insulting but it fails the basic threshold of "why should I care?" It has a plot that's not interesting enough to follow and Eisner lacks the skill to give the piece the atmosphere it needed to work (it could have been more effective in theaters than it is at home where the special effects are easier to pick apart). It's also bizarre how much the film wastes the talents of Michael Caine and Elijah Wood in thankless supporting roles. It's for diehard Vin Diesel fans only.
Crafting the Magic: "The Last Witch Hunter" Featurette
Animated Short Films: The Origins of the Axe and Cross
"The Last Witch Hunter" Sizzle Reel/ "Paint It, Black"
The Disney Vault opens again to release another version of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," one of the first Disney films released on Blu-ray. Only Disney can maintain this bizarre release pattern in which they issue titles on Blu-ray, pull them from stores, and then release them again. Here's the weirdest part though—the special features aren't the same. It's nice to get new ones this time for those of you who still own the '09 edition but why not just import all of the special features from the last version to the new one, and add several to entice those second-guessing the double dip? I'll never quite figure out Disney's strategy. Whatever one has to say about the idea that they kind of want real fans to own two versions of the same film just to have all the special features, "Snow White" is still a timeless classic. Get it before they ask you to buy it on Blu-ray a third time.
In Walt's Words: "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs" - Hear Walt himself talk about Snow White
Iconography - Explore how this film influences pop culture, art and fashion
Disney/Animation: Designing Disney's First Princess - Modern-day Disney artists discuss the design of Snow White and how it influenced the look of some of your favorite Disney characters
The Fairest Facts Of Them All - Disney channel star Sofia Carson reveals seven intriguing facts about Snow White
And Much More!
Much like "Freeheld," here's another wasted opportunity to tell an important story that focuses on the wrong narrative. The story of the fight for women's right to vote is definitely a cinematically rich one but Sarah Gavron's film focuses on the fictional character of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) instead of the real women on the dangerous frontline of the fight. It's a film that fails to tell the big story by telling the little one, but it's almost worth a rental for the performances. Carey Mulligan seems increasingly incapable of delivering a bad one and Helena Bonham Carter is typically strong. Points too to Ben Whishaw, another actor who always delivers.
"Suffragette": Looking Back, Looking Forward
Making the VFX for "Suffragette"
Feature Commentary with Director Sarah Gavron and Screenwriter Abi Morgan
I was surprised how many people tore this film apart when it traveled South from the Toronto Film Festival. It's by no means a great film and it paled in comparison to "Spotlight" but I stand by the performances in the movie, especially Robert Redford's take on Dan Rather. I also think there's still an interesting story here about how the process of television news broke down in such a way that people stopped asking if the story that ended Rather's career was true or not, focusing more on the political slant on both sides of the issue. It's a solid rental, especially for political and news junkies like me.