American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
As holiday wish lists get populated with Blu-ray collections, more and more of the hit Summer 2015 films land on physical media. The two weeks since our last HECG have seen the release of several of this year's most notable blockbusters, including the biggest film of the year. It's also been a time for some interesting catalog releases and one of the best documentaries of the year, the winner of the Audience Award at the Chicago Critics Film Festival. Netflix has been dominated by interesting, low-budget films, including the premiere of the latest from Cary Fukunaga, while it's still in theaters, and a pair of releases that played CCFF starring Cobie Smulders. As we often say here, there's a little something for everyone.
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
3 NEW TO VOD
10 NEW TO BLU-RAY
Bobcat Goldthwait has made a directorial career out of unexpected left turns from the black comedy of "World's Greatest Dad" to the found footage horror of "Willow Creek" to this film, the best of his career. Barry Crimmins was once one of the most relevant and influential stand-ups in the world, charting the angry, political discourse of people like Bill Hicks and Lewis Black. And then he disappeared. The first half of "Call Me Lucky" is essentially an ode to a lost comic genius, with loving remembrances by peers and friends. And then "Call Me Lucky" takes a turn, becoming something deeper, moving and remarkable. Crimmins' story is one you won't soon forget. "Call Me Lucky" has been a massive success on the festival circuit this year, but it's still the kind of film that needs word of mouth to find viewers in today's crowded marketplace. Do your part. See it. And tell your friends to see it.
Commentary with Bobcat Goldthwait & Barry Crimmins
"The Larry Fessenden Collection"
One of the more unexpected horror releases of a typically-crowded October of them is this four-movie box set from genre icon Larry Fessenden, which includes "No Telling," "Habit," "Wendigo" and "The Last Winter." Seeing these four works collected, one can really appreciate how unique Fessenden is in his genre. While they're not perfect films, they're all ambitious in their own way, and they're all distinctly different from what we typically see in straight-to-DVD horror. None of them are straight-up slasher pics, in other words. Whether he's commenting on man's abuse of Mother Nature in "No Telling" or turning addiction on its head in "Habit," Fessenden is a rare bird, a man who explores different avenues within his genre. And Scream Factory really delivers for him and his fans, giving all four films restorations, commentaries, and detailed special features. I love it when a box set can surprise me. Let's be honest, we know what we're getting with sets like Kubrick and Spielberg. This one I didn't see coming. It's great.
Numerous, and on each film
"Me & Earl & the Dying Girl"
One of the more divisive films of 2015, this Sundance Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize winner was seen by some as manipulative and myopic while others place it on a pedestal as one of the most moving films of the year. I'm somewhere in the middle, although closer to the pedestal than many of my colleagues. For me, the arguments about perspective miss the very title of the film and its purpose in that it's about a young man who sees little in the world other than what's around and impacting him. And so that forced perspective naturally leads other characters to be broadly drawn. There's also an energy and passion in the filmmaking here, courtesy of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, that too many people ignored, no matter what they thought of the screenplay. Interestingly enough, it feels like the conversation about "Earl" isn't over. After the rapturous praise in Park City and disappointed response when it was released, people seem to be coming back to somewhere in the middle. Don't listen to the hyperbole on either side. See where you fall for yourself.
Audio Commentary by Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary
Abstract: Movie for Rachel
This Is Where You Learn How the Movie Was Made
A Conversation with Martin Scorsese and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Greg Gaines and Earl Jackson Productions
When Robin Williams passed away, I was surprised at how many fans pointed to this Disney hit first as having a formative impact on their lives. I guess we're in that generation now as film writers who were kids when the Disney renaissance of the late '80s and earlu '90s are now critics. For me, "Aladdin" was always kind of a notch below "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty & the Beast" and "The Lion King"—fun but less essential. However, I did always wonder why Disney was taking so long to put it on Blu-ray. And I'm happy that oversight has finally been corrected with one of their typically robust family releases, with a fantastic transfer and solid special features. This is the big Disney catalog release for the holiday season, and it will make a great gift for many over the next few months.
The Genie Outtakes: Outtake Recordings Bring the Genie to Life
Genie 101: Hosted by Scott Weinger, The Voice of Aladdin
Unboxing ""Aladdin"": Explore Hidden Secrets with Disney Channel's Joey Bragg
""Aladdin"": Creating Broadway Magic: With Composer Alan Menken and Others
Disney Song Selection
"Back to the Future: 30th Anniversary Trilogy"
Speaking of gift ideas, we recently passed the 30th anniversary of "Back to the Future," and Universal used the opportunity (as well as the timing of "Back to the Future Day" on 10/21/15) to release the three films again on Blu-ray, complete with HOURS of special features and an all-new bonus disc. The 25th anniversary release five years ago was pretty sturdy itself, and if you own that I'm not sure there's much need to upgrade. However, if you don't already have the "Back to the Future" movies, this is the way to go. You even get two episodes of the animated "Back to the Future" series and a new short starring Christopher Lloyd called "Doc Brown Saves the World!"
Too many to list
Another divisive Sundance hit, Rick Famuyiwa's hip-hop comedy is another flick that I feel was misunderstood when it landed in theaters. Yes, some of the comedy here is broad, but some of it is satire, playing with the archetypes of the genre we've seen in everything from "House Party" to "Boyz n the Hood." Like "Earl," there's also just a ton of filmmaking energy here—the whole piece pulses with energy and commitment to craft. It's just a likable film, although the final scene monologue that tries to take it a bit deeper than it has earned is a misstep. Still, "Dope" is a more than solid rental, and if a bit more love and care had been put into the special features on the Blu-ray, I might even encourage a purchase.
""Dope"" is Different
Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy reunited for this summer's spy spoof and the result was yet-another comedy hit (following "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat"). My favorite thing about "Spy" is how committed Feig and company are to the relatively subversive gender statement at play. McCarthy's bumbling character is never once rescued by a man. In fact, most of her male counterparts, including great turns from Jude Law and Jason Statham, need her help to make it out alive. It's a bit too long (like most Feig) but it's a lot of fun when it's clicking, and the Blu-ray is STACKED with spcial features, including tons of alternate takes and deleted scenes.
3 Redacted Scenes
15 Classified Alternate Scenes
2 Top Secret Gag Reel
Cutting Room Floor Outtakes including:
"Susan and Her Men"
"The Great Rick Ford"
"For Your Eyes Only: Jokes-A-Plenty"
How "Spy" Was made: 8 Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
The long-awaited fourth film in the "Jurassic Park" franchise stunned everyone with a worldwide gross of over $1 billion. Nostalgia, timing, great marketing and Chris Pratt's rising star all connected to make this a phenomenon. But is it a good movie? Will it stand the test of time? It's OK. The mix of "commentary" about commercialism and wanting things bigger instead of better is not only a bit too blunt but leaves a bad taste given the film's "More is More" aesthetic. What surprises me the most about "Jurassic World" is how much of a product it resembles. It doesn't really have a heart like Spielberg's classic film. Oh, it looks great, especially in HD. And it sounds amazing. But the technical accomplishments of a film like this will fade, and what will we be left with?
Chris & Colin Take on the "World"
Dinosaurs Roam Once Again
Welcome to ""Jurassic World""
""Jurassic World"": All-Access Pass
Innovation Center Tour with Chris Pratt
Speaking of CGI orgies, Dwayne Johnson carries this silly slice of disaster flick insanity, so heavily inspired by "The Poseidon Adventure" that it essentially steals its climax. I grew up loving disaster movies (Irwin Allen rules), and yet even I can't forgive some of the excess of this silly earthquake flick, one of those movies that asks us to care a lot about the survival of a handful of people while thousands die around them. The biggest problem with "San Andreas" is a common one of the summer blockbuster—it's too damn long. A film about California falling into a fault should be tight, lean and mean; not almost two hours. Still, there's some fun eye candy here at times and Johnson remains committed to being the best thing about most of the movies in which he stars.
""San Andreas"": The Real Fault Line
Dwayne Johnson to the Rescue
Scoring the Quake
Commentary by Director Brad Peyton
This one hurts me. I'm as big a fan of Brad Bird as you'll find. There's a poster of "The Iron Giant" over my desk. But something is wrong with "Tomorrowland," a piece that he's been working on for years and disappointed audiences when it was released in theater this summer. What happened here? I think the magic was lost by over-production. "Tomorrowland" feels too calculated by half, missing the loose magic a film like this needs to work. It's undeniably technically precise, but to the degree that its edges have been rounded and sanded into something too perfect. It's dull. The human element is missing. Bird is too talented for this to be a complete disaster—the filmmaking still impresses—but it's a misstep for a man who hadn't made one before. He got it out of his system. I still can't wait to see what he does next.
Remembering the Future: A Personal Journey Through ""Tomorrowland"" with Brad Bird: The director reflects on the movie as both a celebration of humankind's can-do spirit and a rousing call to action.
Animated Short: ""The Origins of Plus Ultra""
A Great Big Beautiful Scoring Session
""The World of Tomorrow Science Hour"": Hosted by Futurologist David Nix: Outtakes from a long-lost Disney series plot.
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